April 25, 2010

A Jerusalem story

Guest blogger Judith Green
with Zooie the dog and Smegul the cat in her
family’s Jerusalem's Abu Tor neighborhood

A felicitous email message from Judith Green arrived this morning. Eager to share my wise and generous friend's message, I asked (and she agreed) to publish it here. Judith, among my go-to persons on matters social, cultural, political, and historical here, in Israel, and "a member of Kehilat Yedidya in Baka, Jerusalem, is a classical archeologist and teaches Classical Greek at the Hebrew University. Also, she is a founder or member of several hopelessly idealistic organizations such as Rapprochement Dialogue Center, Women of the Wall, MachsomWatch, Alternative Archaeology Group, et al."

An unusual event occurred in synagogue yesterday: I noticed a small of group of obviously Christian people arriving with Annette Hochstein at Yedidya. This isn't the unusual part, but the story behind it.

At the end of the service, during the announcements, Annette got up and told her story. She had been returning from a meeting in Cleveland on 9/11. Their plane was suddenly diverted, no one knew why, and landed in St. Johns, Newfoundland. Then, over the loud speaker, they were told that America had suffered a terrorist attack, the Twin Towers were destroyed, and the whole air space had been closed down. Just like that. No TV or radio or anything. They sat on the plane for eight hours while they witnessed another 26 large jet planes land in this tiny airport, bringing about 5,000 people.

When they finally disembarked, local people were waiting with food packages and big welcoming smiles. They weren't allowed to take anything off the plane other than a small handbag. Then they were taken to a stadium where long tables of food had been set up — not by the airlines, of course, but by the people of St. Johns (total population about 120,000). They were then divided into groups and taken to various hosts; Annette’s group was taken to a convent of the Sisters of Mercy where they were warmly welcomed and hosted for a whole week! They even made sure that Annette had Shabbat candles and appropriate food, and they took them on trips in the area, etc.!

This Shabbat, some of those nuns and priests paid a visit to Yedidya at the end of a three-month study group at the Ecce Homo Church (part of the Convent of the Sisters of Zion) in the Old City. Everyone was in tears hearing Annette's story. I got to chat with them afterward — they are the sort that don't wear costumes, just ordinary looking. There were also a few Catholic priests from Calcutta! It reminded us of the trauma, of the uncertainty in the US after 9/11, when everyone was a suspect, and no one knew what might happen next. A young Yemenite man on Annette’s plane was terrified that he would be lynched or at least arrested as soon as he left the plane. He was surrounded and "protected" by the other passengers.

Jerusalem seems to attract extraordinary stories, both wonderful and horrible.