Jerusalem is a city with three Sabbaths—holy days that make for a long weekend often rife with prayers and recriminations. This is a beautiful, tense, chaotic, sometimes violent city that comes to a short peaceful halt during the call of the muezzin, the songs of a Shabbat evening, or the tactile recitation on the rosary.
Prayer is a serious, pervasive business in Jerusalem. On a Friday night I sit alone on the terrace of a friend’s apartment in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood. The rush to finish all the preparations before the Shabbat siren goes off have left me exhausted and I’ve decided not to go to Kabbalat Shabbat services with my hosts. But Kabbalat Shabbat—the receiving of the Sabbath—comes to me anyway. I hear the traditional songs of the service saturating the night sky from a not too distant synagogue. In the lull, there is the Muslim call to worship, its minor key making the imperative to pray sound doleful. Prayer is a sad, provocative, life and death affair in this country.
One of the descriptors I’ve heard for this latest spasm of violence in Israel is “The Lone Wolf Intifada.” So-named because the Arabs stabbing Jews and the Jews beating Arabs are not acting in concert with any particular organization. This is vigilantism at its fiercest. Israelis are scared. Arabs are enraged. As one friend quipped, “When it’s quiet for 24 hours, we’re almost hopeful that the danger has passed. And then there’s a stabbing and the whole cycle of despair starts up again.”
Despair is not what I feel and yet I’m not hopeful either. At Friday night dinner my friends have a lovely tradition of passing around “angel cards.” Printed on each card are words, in Hebrew with English translation, like friendship, nourishment, synthesis, finding one’s way, truth. The words are a catalyst for conversation. But they are also resonant in the way they are both consoling and provocative.
My angel card bears the word refuah or healing. Refuah shelama—a complete healing—is the Hebrew phrase for wishing someone a full recovery. The most immediate explanation would be to state the obvious: Israel is ailing, hemorrhaging literally and figuratively. Only a refuah shelma can save her. But like the knifings that have been daily occurrences in this country for the past month, the wounds—physical and emotional—are deeper than ever. Later in the night, helicopters hover and sirens wail.
Jerusalem is under attack again, from within.