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Herstory

I never knew Mary Williams.

She died in 1816 but she lived in what is now known as West Orange, the same New Jersey suburban town that I call home. She won her fame for being a loyal heroine of the American Revolution, which took place in the 1700s. Who amongst us doesn’t know the many tales of valor that resulted in our forming a more perfect union? Who amongst us doesn’t know tales of Columbus, the Pilgrims, and the Leni Lenape Native Americans? But from my present perch, all of this seems so recent and modern. I am now in Jerusalem, where hundreds of years ago are like yesterday. Old here is something different entirely. Crossing New Jersey’s Delaware River surely is not fake news, but just as surely it’s pretty new news. I don’t disparage America’s past but you would never call it ancient HIStory, or HERstory. The Pilgrims and the Boston Tea Party are as embedded in my brain as they are in yours. But come on, when you spend time in Jerusalem, old is something else.

Thus, this fine early winter Jerusalem morning, my husband and our grandson took a little stroll across the street on what was a truly spring-like day, with gentle breezes, brilliant sunshine and the promise of even more glorious weather (which undoubtedly will remain a promise unfulfilled). They didn’t get very far, passing by the spanking new playground directly across the street, when they saw two tour buses, and many passengers alighting.

As far as we all knew, across the street was a bit of an undeveloped patch of land, of no inherent interest.

We are situated in a newish section of the neighborhood known as Arnona, in one of a twin set of 25 story buildings that are less than five years old. These buildings are blessed with remarkable views, and are stacked like Legos on an area 800 meters above sea level. You can see much of the famed spectacular vistas of the city; and there is even a street nearby known as Rehov Yom Hamelach where you actually can see much of the Dead Sea, which begins 20 miles from here.

This neighborhood, strangely, reminds me of my youth in Weequahic, where the Beth Israel Hospital was a visible beacon from almost any vantage point in Newark. The Beth is perched on a high hill, towering above most of the city, and it was a landmark to the lost in the days before Waze. Living a short walk from that hospital, I always could be led back home either on foot or on my bicycle, or eventually by car. It was reassuring, especially to me, someone with no sense of direction. When I saw the hospital, I knew the direction I needed to follow.

And such is Arnona, this neighborhood most recently made famous by the relocation of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to a few blocks from here. Whether it matters that it has moved from one city to another is not the point. It is where it now is and the controversy is not making waves these days. Too much other stuff is going on. But parenthetically, should you need to find the embassy, just look for these 25 story buildings as your personal lighthouse.

Since these skyscrapers did not earn the interest of tourists, albeit in a city not renowned for towers, even though they are the wave of the future, it was clear to my fearless explorers, who witnessed the descent of the tourists across the street, that there must be something else of importance. It was clear that two tall buildings evoked only a modest glance and were not worthy of becoming a tourist destination. So what were the tourists seeing?

Of course! It was an elaborate mikvah, discovered in 2015 and dating back more than 2,000 years. It was filled with ancient art works. You might be tempted to call this a remarkable find — which is was — but there are so many remarkable finds in Jerusalem and Israeli archeology as to be proof positive for any and all who deny Israel’s historical claims to this place.

How many thousands of years of making this the Jewish homeland before the world will acknowledge that this land is ours!

Of course it is an incredible challenge to imagine this hilly modern neighborhood as it was all those centuries ago. Swipe away the modernity — schools and stores, the wifi and the sunken garages that go down to minus 4 with two cars per apartment, and the amenities that we each take for granted. Two thousand years or so is a long, long time. Perhaps your ancestors were here, where I sit to type on my laptop. Or perhaps even my own were here.

Rosanne Skopp of West Orange is a wife, mother of four, grandmother of 14, and great-grandmother of three. She is a graduate of Rutgers University and a dual citizen of the United States and Israel. She is a lifelong blogger, writing blogs before anyone knew what a blog was!

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