You can go home again
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OPINION

You can go home again

Yesterday we took a ride to a home we had lived in a long time ago.

The year was 1973, nearly a half century of elapsed time. Impossible to believe! The memories are so clear and sharp, so totally recognizable.

The route to our former address was a braiding of the familiar and the unfamiliar. Some of the landmarks, of course, were as we remembered, and some went back many centuries. Some were new neighborhoods, like the one where we hang our masks today.

We drove on an express highway, avoiding much of the tremendous city traffic that had just not existed then. In those days there certainly were cars, but there wasn’t really traffic. And who would have wanted an express road that would be so pareve? Then we could go where we wanted when we wanted, and never had to factor in traffic jams. Never. And we’d see the sights and the sites, with their history, beautiful, or routine, or sometimes devastating.

And in those days, parking was never an issue. We went where we wanted to go and we knew we easily could park for free.

From the mundane to that shattered peace on an October Yom Kippur, a tragic event, an unnecessary reminder that beauty and new friends and old historic places could often come with a price. So we prayed for the chayalim, the soldiers, and did the little we could, which was very little indeed.

And as those memories poured in, gyrating in my brain like a washing machine, I thought of the mixture of joy and sorrow that the return to that old neighborhood brought with it. It was children playing, the happy sounds overpowered by the sounds of mothers sobbing at the loss of their beautiful young sons. And in all this time those children became middle-aged adults, often grandparents themselves, while the lost chayalim never were to reach middle age, but also never were to be forgotten.

So yesterday, we drove from this sparkling new neighborhood, a neighborhood full of hope and striving to grow and succeed, to what in 1973 was another sparkling new neighborhood. We moved our mindset, from an elderly — OK, old — couple in 2022 to the years with our young family in 1973, from the towers here in Arnona to the slopes of Mount Scopus and the place known as French Hill, a place that had rapidly become our home, and that remains a pillar in our hearts.

We left French Hill but she never left us.

We had settled into a six-room apartment and filled it with four small Skopps and one very old mutt, who had made her first flight ever and lived to return to New Jersey 14 months later. That was the place of her ancestors, after all.

The apartment was quite comfortable, except on cold Jerusalem nights. Yes, we did have central heat, but only for two hours per evening. I remember never wanting to go out during those two hours — who wanted to waste the precious heat? The neighbors in the six-story building felt the same. We all stayed home.

Our building was filled with lots of kids for our children to play with, which was a nice change from suburban New Jersey, where cars were usually required for every activity. Walking was just not the way.

We had an elevator. My father, the brave man known as Sam, got stuck in that uplifting machine. He was taking out the garbage when the elevator got lazy and stopped working. I would have been upset had it been me. I never loved elevators, and I still don’t. Dad was confined to that little floating box for close to an hour. I worried that he would emerge traumatized. Not that man! Rid of the garbage, he walked out whistling, swinging the can and looking fine. I never went into that elevator again, being young and able to easily climb the three flights to our apartment. I couldn’t do it today.

The children each had friends and experiences. Amy had a Romanian English teacher for Kita Heh. She corrected Amy’s counting. It was not one, two, three. It was one, two, tree.

Lori had a Canadian friend named Remy. They were inseparable. A friendship born in a war is not easily forgotten.

The two younger ones, Pam and Peter, shared a friend named Esther, who lived one flight up from us. She was nearing 3 but fully independent as she wandered around the building. There often were arguments, and I usually expected a slam of a door as Esther marched out angrily. The next day she would be back, and the games would continue.

While Abba, my husband, consulted at the Hebrew University, a place that eventually granted degrees to our two eldest, I was domestic. Notably, my two good friends in the building and I had a coffee date almost daily. So convenient, and so unlike life in America’s cities. In our building, we were all entwined. There were only Jews living there, and everyone really cared about everyone else. There were no strangers.

Half a flight up from us were our unlikeliest friends, Jews from Boro Park in Brooklyn, Yosef and Chana. There is too much to say about our smoke-filled evenings together, eye openers for all of us. When Yosef abruptly died it was devastating. He was 57, and a true mensch.

French Hill had one little makolet — a grocery store — that fed us all until we could wander over to Ramat Eshkol and its real supermarket. Today, as we meandered, we saw that French Hill had grown up. Stores filled Rehov Haganah. You would never be hungry there. Shuls were born and bred, and new schools and nursery schools were abundant. Long may they reign!

So who says you can’t go home again?

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