Thursday, July 05, 2007

Prayer (Jerusalem, 1978)

My Aunt Ruthy and Uncle Paul took me abroad for the first time.

Before I left, my hair stylist tried to cut a Dorothy Hamill wedge cut, but it didn't work with my hair.

It made me look like a boy.

I had flown before but not that many times. My mother was afraid to fly, but I wasn't. I sat on the plane and looked out the window just over Italy. It surprised me how much Italy looked like it did on the map, a boot pointing its toe into the sea.

In Jerusalem the water tasted salty. My older cousin Michael ran around our room in his underpants and pretended he was Tarzan. We ate cheese slices for breakfast at the Hotel David and not the whitefish.

There were so many cats and kittens nesting among the stones of the old city. I liked to pet them. I would crawl over stones to get near them.

I wanted a cat.

Dozens of black-hatted, davening Hasidic men lined up in front of the Wailing Wall, the ruins of the Second Temple. Women were not allowed on their side. Aunt Ruthy wanted me to pretend I was a boy so I could enter the male section and see the davening up close.

My hair was short and I was ten.

I didn't say no.

I was curious, but I was scared they'd know I was really a girl. The men in black swayed back and forth, touching the ancient stones with their fingers, pushing folded notes to God between the cracks. My flat chest leaned imperceptibly toward them as if I were praying.

I couldn't go to where they were.

In Haifa I turned eleven. All day we swam in the Mediterranean Sea, so blue. That evening we ate at a Yemenite restaurant and Uncle Paul ordered mashed brains. I didn't know you could eat brains, or testicles. I sat in between my cousins Peter and Daniel. I was thirsty. I picked up my glass and took a sip.

It didn't taste like New Jersey water.


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