Being Free

A bent-over elderly man, almost transported to this spot and time from perhaps the 1930s limps by me. “?פוטו ממקום” (“tourist photos”) he faintly pipes, wearily lifting the obsolete Polaroid. If only it weren’t for the inappropriate over-commercialized setting and the iPhone, he would be in big business here… The polaroids will fade and the film will die, but there is something so unforgettable about this man’s characteristic limp, his urgency in capturing ephemeral moments using the most classic, timeless methods. He is ready and willing to work, to reinject the personal into human contact. And thus it’s so simple, like so many things about the character of this country (even though most of the world fails to notice, and only focuses on the complicated).

There is a faith in what worked in the past, dedication to sacred memory, and unwavering responsibility of commemoration. Jews visit a Temple-less Temple Mount because the image in the collective conscience cannot be obliterated, a nation crowds and commemorates for an entire day the death of its fallen heroes because of the sheer magnificence of the revived Jewish fighter. Throngs burst through the Jerusalem gates in May, because a memory of a besieged Jerusalem is both in the distance and yet in impossible proximity and the miracle of Jewish sovereignty is now so palpable. Just 70 years before, they had been proceeding in masses toward a different faith, and now the march is voluntary, empowered, marked by the stride of a nation reclaimed through strength and persistence. Songs of yearning, songs thousands of years old ring in the corridors of the Old City in tune to the clinks of the chisel that uncovers yet more of my Jewish history, and beckons with outstretched arms, “YOU—you belong here, and don’t forget it!” And these rocks are a transcendent sight, tear-jerking. It is a curious phenomenon, the survival of stones beneath the plunders of history. So too the sustenance of a nation fated to be eradicated and forgotten. But no, old people saunter in the Old City streets and children giggle and play in the squares, because they — and I — have returned to that most satisfying state of being—free—in one’s homeland. Yes, mister, I’ll take that photo.



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