Hinei rakevet, she’mistovevet, al galgalim, al galgalim, al galgalim. Toot toot!
(Here comes the train, going around and around on its wheels!)
I couldn’t get this children’s song out of my head all afternoon! It’s no surprise, of course; my afternoon began with a chilly, mostly-cloudy jaunt (initially in the wrong direction and downhill ~ bummer) along Jerusalem’s old train tracks within in the relatively new Hamesila (Railway) Park. This park, with its repurposed track, is just beyond the back fence of the house where I am staying (the childhood and present home of my charming host, Dvora). This is my first day of 51, living in Yerushalayim. I didn’t notice until I arrived that my age and the length of my time here match. If I were a “tweeter” I’d have a handy hashtag!
When I arrived last night around 21:00 to settle into D’vora’s lovely home, my day had already been full of happiness and a sense of accomplishment. I had:
- awakened in Haifa,
- eaten breakfast with Ruthie in the Shima’s extraordinary home,
- been dropped at the Hof haCarmel (closest train station) by Tal,
- spent 10 splendid moments listening to the sea at the beach,
- successfully purchased a ticket (even less expensive than the buses and much nicer) and found the correct platform to travel by train to Tel Aviv – Savidor Center,
- hailed a taxi to drop me at my initial “home” to have lunch with Shaula and Ami, and repack my gear for my extended stay in Jerusalem,
- shopped and conversed with wonderful artists at the Shuk haCarmel (pop-up arts festival on Tuesdays and Fridays) during the remaining daylight,
- enjoyed a few more hugs and a very generous lift (courtesy of my malachim/ministering angels, Shaula and Ami) to the bus station,
- located the correct bus to travel to Jerusalem with ALL of my luggage including books, and
- caught a taxi to 16א M’kor Chayim, my “home” for the coming 51 days!
M’kor Chayim is a neighborhood in southwest Jerusalem, walking distance from both the ulpan (Ulpan-Or) where I begin my studies this week, and the yeshiva (Pardes) where I begin my final weeks of study on January 19th. AND, “m’kor chayim” מקור חיים means fount/spring/source of Life … this feels like no coincidence, nor an insignificant fact, from the moment I meet Dvora. We greet one another with a big hug, both of us sure we have known each other for years, notwithstanding the fact that we met through Airbnb just a few weeks ago when I committed to spend 50 nights in her perfectly situated home (a luxury I could actually afford in this expensive city). Little did I know that I was also arranging what I expect will be a life-long friendship. AND, the house we are now sharing for the next seven weeks is miraculous! I am acutely aware of the blessings surrounding me as I travel and I am trying not to be so caught up in the activities of each day that I miss opportunities to truly rejoice and find expressions for my deep gratitude.
So, back to the rakevet … in the delightful way that 99% of my trip is turning out to be PERFECTLY designed to meet my needs despite nearly complete lack of planning on my part, the Park is visible from the kitchen window as I do the dishes. Dvora, a fascinating woman born in Transylvania the year Israel became a State, and a citizen of Israel since 1949, is a life-long learner and in classes several days a week.
I walked out the front door, around the corner of the house, through a sweet playground with that cushy, not-concrete material, and right onto the repurposed track! People are walking, riding bikes, jogging, sitting, and exercising at various “stops” along the way. Up ahead and all around, I see buildings that have that unmistakable “Jerusalem” look. I am intrigued by the history of this track …
A single track was laid along 88 kilometers, and the train passed over 176 bridges on its way from Jaffa to Jerusalem. On September 26, 1882, sheep were slaughtered on the track for good luck and the first engine chugged out of Jaffa toward Jerusalem, pulling coaches adorned with Imperial Ottoman flags. The laying of the track shortened the journey between the two cities considerably – from 12 hours by horse-drawn coach to only four hours.
With the conquest of Palestine by the British in 1920, the railway was improved. The British linked the track to the Cairo-Beirut track and the track of the Jezreel Valley train, all of them operated by Palestine Railways.
Under the Mandate, the Jerusalem station site was enlarged, and warehouses were added alongside it. The station operated almost without interruption until the establishment of the state, when traffic on the line ceased due to the War of Independence in 1948. The first official Israeli train, which traveled to Jerusalem on August 7, 1949, hauled a symbolic freight of flour, cement from the Nesher quarry and Torah scrolls.
As time passed, the number of passengers on the train to and from Jerusalem declined sharply, and for many years the train ran only once a day. In 1998, Israel Railways decided to shut down the Jerusalem station. [read more]
There are many things that catch my attention as I walk. This colorful patch is very close to a odd-looking duck that appears lost – alone – and is rather franticly trying to bathe in a tiny puddle. Perhaps he was drawn here by the two yellow-headed birds on the cinderblock side of a building. Israel is a country with a lot of graffiti. Sometimes the scrawl is merely a defacing of property, like we see in the States, but often it is extremely artistic. In Tel Aviv, they even offer a graffiti art tour.
As I walk along the former railway, I see a number of things worthy of photographing but instead, today, I really just want to be a woman living in the heart of a big city with a briefcase and a destination (or two) and business to accomplish. I am a bit disappointed that the purely fun and carefree part of my trip is over, and I am also feeling an urgency around my language studies in particular. I want to be able to speak this language I hear all around me and to be able to answer shopkeepers in Hebrew, order food, and ask about my surroundings in the language of the country where I am feeling more and more at home. I am aware of just how significantly language makes one feel on the inside or on the outside.
Traveling alone makes this even more acute an experience, which is good because it is very motivating. I think about all of the people who, for reasons beyond their control, have been forced from their homes and have come here – first because of the Shoah (Holocaust) and subsequently, as a result of persecution in a variety of different locations around the globe. I thought I was less interested in conversational Hebrew, wanting mostly to feel more of the language in my mouth for purposes of studying Torah, Talmud, liturgical and mystical texts. Now, the desire is morphing and I want it all!
I see so many undergraduate-age students and feel that familiar frustration that I “wasted” so much time when I “could have” done this years ago in college when my brain was more facile and there was more time to allow it to sink in through decades of use. Recognizing that foolish self-defeating language, I force myself back into the present and head toward Ulpan-Or where the motto we are to tell ourselves 12 times per day is:
I enjoy studying Hebrew. I understand and speak Hebrew easily and fluently. I progress rapidly in Hebrew
I have spent the past two weeks with very little thought of the past or the future, living almost entirely in the present (which feels very Israeli and SO good, especially given the nature of the past 18 months of my life) . As if in answer to my need, once again, I am snapped into the present by the pure delight of coming upon a “reading station” תחנת קריאה It’s like the sweet neighborhood boxes we see in the States, but on steroids! Foreshadowing the weeks to come, here is another sign that learning is fun and essential at every station in life!