| Voice in the Crowd |

The New Old

Writing breathlessly about a trip to Yerushalayim is a bit high-school-yearbooky, but I don’t care


With Covid somehow fading from the public discourse, the anger, indignation, and virtuousness of the “CDC knows best” chevreh turned to other, more pressing causes, and Fauci disappearing from view faster than the lone tray of kugel at the smorgasbord of a takanah wedding, there is some blessed relief.

Borders have opened, it has become impossible to park downtown, and simchahs are largely celebrated the way they were before.

Hopefully we’re back to normal, but this time, every step is laced with appreciation.

Writing breathlessly about a trip to Yerushalayim is a bit high-school-yearbooky, but I don’t care. It’s a big deal. I never realized how big.

Privileged to work for a magazine with Jerusalem headquarters, I used to be a frequent visitor. I had the Pango parking app on my phone and Dani at the old Gal-Paz knew which music I liked.

The Covid-induced interval was the longest I have ever been away from Eretz Yisrael’s holy soil since I went to learn there as a bochur. (Yes, I know, aliyah, if you really believed, no excuse — the Inbox should be fun next week, it’s spelled B-E-S-S-E-R, but I digress.)

Returning home last month after three years of not being there, I got to see everything through new eyes again, marveling once again at the thrill, that physical joy that rises in you and wraps itself around your heart like a coil as you take those first steps onto the walkway outside Ben-Gurion Airport.

Nothing — not the fact that the elevators inside don’t work but you can’t go up the escalator with the luggage trolley, leaving you with no good options; not the fact that every single car rental company in Israel treats your file like it’s the first one they’ve ever handled, scrutinizing the contract like you’re making an offer to buy the whole Tel Aviv — nothing will ruin it.

The drive up to Yerushalayim is as glorious as that first time, the holy city suddenly soaring above you in a burst of light — orange and green and gold.

I will never take this for granted, I whispered as I walked up Malchei Yisrael, amazed that I still hadn’t lost the ability to do that dance between double strollers, motorized bikes, spread out tzedakah collectors, intensely focused locals headed home, and the heavy-breathing accordion bus that wants only to move forward another foot or two.

The shopping list for the kids back home has changed a bit. They now sell Doritos in America, l’mashal, even if you can find more exotic (and unpleasant) flavors in Eretz Yisrael.

Benny, from Benny’s Market, is ageless as ever, still counting money without looking down, and the store still smells of shampoo, for some reason. The Yerushalmi woman who sells fresh-made rugelach and bourekas on Ashtori Haparchi, in a tiny store where you stand as you eat and can read Hamodia or Yated for free, but don’t stand there too long ’cause others are waiting, is still doing her thing.

The one-time lotto kiosk that concealed a shul is gone, but the shul — informal and shtibel-like but also featuring a Shemoneh Esreh longer than in any mainstream American shul — thrives.

And, so delightfully, the tourists are back!

A vendor in a light brown sweater with a matching scarf thrown casually around his neck tells me that this is the first month of real tourist traffic, and they are working to rebuild consumer enthusiasm.

“The people are coming back,” he says, “they’re noisy and proud as ever, but they aren’t buying yet, they don’t have that old confidence to just swipe, swipe, swipe like they used to. Hashem will help.”

(That the tourists are back, baruch Hashem, is thanks to many Divine messengers, but I’m not sure if any worked harder over the last two years than Rabbi Nechemya Malinowitz, who patiently, good-naturedly dealt with a merry-go-round of bureaucracy, teaching the language of revolving quarantine/PCR/antigen/vaccine pass requirements to impatient Americans, with little appreciation. If you knew his father, Rav Chaim Zev ztz”l, you know where he learned to graciously answer people at all hours.)

There are still only two real ATM options on the busiest shopping block in the Jewish world, and one is always broken. There is still always one person who persists in crossing the Kikar Shabbos intersection a moment before the light changes, a small but important psychological victory.

Since we were there to visit our daughter in seminary, we also had the privilege of taking her and her friends out for the obligatory dinner at which my wife spoke to them and I played with my phone, but I did come away (hungry because it was milchig) with a clear thought. There is much back-and-forth about the high cost of seminaries, and it’s a legitimate conversation that should be had, but the eager, wide-eyed, enchanted look of people discovering that country, that life!, in a real way is priceless. It settles inside you, this city, writing its map on your heart, and wherever these seminary girls will end up, whatever happens to the Ramban notebooks, the yearning and connection will remain there forever.

Okay, I’m rereading this now and it is takke very yearbooky, but you know what?

The Rambam seems to indicate that the mandate of “re’ehu,” sending mishloach manos to “friends,” is literal, and the primary mitzvah is to send to a friend. Now, if the intent of the mitzvah is to increase brotherhood and love between Jews, shouldn’t we send gifts to those not yet our friends, in an attempt to expand the network of friendship?

The Megillah tells us that the Jews of Shushan did not “lay hands on the spoil”…Because the depth of this miracle was to perceive the wonder in simply being alive, without new gains. The mitzvah is performed with wine, which improves organically with age, allowing us to experience the “freshness in what is old,” leading us to a renewed kabbalas haTorah.

This is why we send mishloach manos to friends — not to create new relationships, but to increase the warmth and appreciation in those relationships that already exist.

(Orah V’Simcha, Purim, Rav Shmuel Yaakov Bornstein)

Eretz Yisrael is old as time, the oldest friend we’ve had.

But now, it’s a bit new as well.

And soon? Soon it will be home!



(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 902)

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