It was a peaceful afternoon of July 2014 in Jerusalem’s Old City and a gentle breeze was blowing mildly in the sunset hours. The sun was going down on the horizon and it was spreading to an almost surreal orange light that was giving a unique colour reflected on the stone houses around it. The sunset made the whole atmosphere look somewhat magical. The smells of Oriental spices, of freshly baked bread, and hot Turkish coffee were filling the Old City’s streets with a variety of other inebriating scents as well. The confused voices of local shopkeepers, of foreign tourists, and casual passers created a Babel Tower made of the most diverse languages and dialects. The mumbling and low singing of praying devotees were in the background a very powerful reminder of Jerusalem’s religious richness.
On that peaceful afternoon, I –Marta– was there. Three years have passed since that day, and looking back now I see myself then as the dreamy 20-year-old heroine of some ancient novel by a forgotten writer. I see myself walking with my old simple jeans; my blue and white t-shirt; my uncombed wavy hair; my curious and marveled eyes; my imperfect, happy smile; my overwhelming enthusiasm; and my hunger for life.
Walking with me on that day was a large and confused group of classmates – people whose names have been washed away by time, and yet their faces are as clear in my mind as if I had met them some hours ago over a cup of hot earl grey tea.
Above all, though, the most vivid memory of the day was walking with Yitzhak,someone whose name and memory will never be won over by time. My friend of one thousand adventures; my friend of nights spent up until late talking of Life and Death and God, with some bottles of cheap beer keeping us company; my friend of shared books, shared dreams, shared toothbrushes, shared fears. Yitzhak. A friend that life, more specifically a job offer in the United States,has now brought onto a path that runs distant from mine and distant from “our” Jerusalem; but nevertheless a friend to whom the woman I have become owes a lot to.
On that peaceful afternoon, as we were walking through the enchanting Old City, Yitzhak suddenly grabbed my hand and we began to run.
We ran for a while without him talking or without me asking. We ran through the stony streets and alleys that were becoming ever more confused and ever more intricate, as in a mysterious maze under some wizard’s spell. The number of people walking the streets was decreasing every step we took, and the diversity I had previously observed was decreasing as well. The cultural, linguistic, and religious mosaic that had captured my attention some moments before was now leaving the room to a neat predominance of ultra-orthodox Jews, dressed in their characteristic black attire and busy in conversations that my poor Hebrew and my mind already overwhelmed by thoughts could not grasp.
After running for a few more meters and after taking an almost hidden staircase, we reached the rooftop of a house. There, suddenly and unexpectedly, Yitzhak stopped and pointed to his right. I turned my head mechanically, I looked, and I could feel through my veins –as strong as one of Joyce’s epiphanies- that my life was changing in that moment. In front of me, Jerusalem was shining in all its beauty, with the symbols of the city’s three monotheistic religions rising proudly above the mess of houses around. In a land too often torn apart by war and hatred, the view of the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Holy Sepulchre Church standing and coexisting side by side made me feel in that moment a deep sense of calm, of hope, and peace, and I began to understand.I understood that peace is not a utopia but something as real as the air we breathe; I understood that peace could be real even in that torn-apart land; and I understood that to the peace of that land I wanted to devote my energies, my studies, my career as journalist.