every city has a soul
Jill Hammer

and if you want to get your shit together
go to Jerusalem

a traveling priest said that

there were many wandering saints
in the streets of Jerusalem
before the bombings grew terrible
before the dragons hatched
their hundredth generation

I lived near a playground
my Friday night synagogue
shook with dancing
Sabbath was the sound
of a thousand hands clapping
the faithful ran out to the balcony
to get a breath of air
the blue clouds were a ritual
bath in the sky

on Yom Kippur
the cars stayed home
roller bladers roamed the streets
in spring
there were roses and fresh fruit
saffron bagged in plastic
in the open market

I studied genesis
at the feet of a humble woman
fell in love
in a field of giant pine cones
walked in the alleys
the little alleys
where the tourists buy silver spiceboxes

the silversmiths came from Morocco
when fire licked up the Jewish quarter
in Marrakesh
there is no more fine silvermaking

the Arab taxi drivers
the poor Jewish taxi drivers
took me to the Western Wall
took me to marriage counseling
took me to a costume party
they were like God
they saw everything

I went to the site of a dovecote
two thousand years old
where they raised white pigeons for sacrifice
I went to the site of a demolished home
a Palestinian girl gave me a flower
I prayed at the Western Wall
they threw stones at me
I went to the caves
where rebels against the Romans hid
I wanted to hide there

wilderness is not a place
it is a time
longing to mend
what cannot be mended
longing to break
what cannot be broken
wilderness is a name
you call in the ear of a lover
but you are speaking to someone else

every city has a soul
but Jerusalem is a scar at the heart of the world
I lost my home there
my home is a feral cat yowling
in the streets of Jerusalem

I'd like to find that traveling priest
and tell him something

Rabbi Jill Hammer is a senior associate at Ma'yan: The Jewish Women's Project of the JCC in Manhattan, where she serves as the editor of the Journey and as a teacher of creative ritual. She was ordained as a rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2001, and holds a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Connecticut. Her work has been published in Bridges, Response, The Jewish Spectator, Biblical Women in the Midrash, and The Women's Torah Commentary. Her first book (JPS 2001) is entitled Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women.

Image: Tammuz, by Mordechai Ardon (1962)

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May 2004

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The Stable
Ira Stone

Our 450 Back Pages

David Stromberg

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From previous issues:

When I Met Humility, I Saw Letters
Abraham Mezrich

Chanel Dubofsky