Saturday night, October 25, 2003
Motzaei Shabbat Bereishit
Dear family and friends,
It's hard exiting the sukkah, leaving the womblike dim light filtering
through the branches and stepping back out under the wide open blue skies.
We had looked forward to spending the festival with my mother this year,
but it was not meant to be.
Instead, we stood under such azure skies a few days after the festival as
we consecrated her tombstone. She always adored this sky. She said that
nowhere in the world are there such clear, bright blue skies as in Israel.
The silence of the tranquil rustic cemetery was broken by skyward sounds:
birdsong and the frequent whop-whop of military helicopters. As I was
delivering the eulogy, a jet roared overhead. Despite the sombre moment, it
was hard not to turn my eyes heavenward to try and identify the tiny dot
among the vapour trails: an F-16, or perhaps more of the modified Phantoms
which had streaked across the sky during my mother's funeral, a
coincidental honour guard. "My eagle-eyed daughter", my mother would say.
"How does she know these things?" She would have laughed.
My mother would have loved that blissful hill. A fine place for her final
home. Wooded slopes surrounding the graves of Jerusalem stone. The air
scented with Jerusalem pine and cypress, the high ground affording
refreshing mountain breezes. My mother never liked the heat.
It's unsettling to conclude a tombstone setting. It's not like a funeral
where you go home and sit shiva and spend a week in mourning. You stand
there and reopen all the memories and then you just go home and get on with
things. We decided to go out for a memorial lunch in Mum's honour.
Beit Anna Ticho, a favourite Jerusalem haunt of hers, is a little sanctuary
in the centre of noisy, crowded, central Jerusalem. At the top of the road
is the bustle and hum of Neviim Street. At the bottom is the traffic and
chaos of Jaffa Road. In between is Rav Kook Street, capped at one end by
the municipal car pound, at the other by a taxi rank. In the middle is an
easily overlooked alley leading to Rabbi Kook's historic home. Facing it,
behind towering walls, is an enchanting garden.
In the garden is Beit Anna Ticho, a small art gallery with a cafe /
restaurant, an island of flowers and trees amidst the Jerusalem stone
buildings. Here we would come after a day about town, plonk ourselves on
the terrace and gaze down on the gnarled olive trees and wispy pines. Onion
soup and wild mushroom strudel, maybe pasta or salad, and then a hard
choice between Mum's favourite desserts: iced coffee with ice cream, or hot
brownies and chocolate sauce.
Today we had both, in her honour.
Leaving the restaurant, I remembered my last visit here. Standing at the
edge of the flower lined path, in my mind's eye I saw my mother there as
she had stood a few months ago, glowing in delight, cheeks flushed, eyes
sparkling under a white straw hat, dappled sunlight flooding through the
tree canopy above.
We must come again soon, she'd said. Indeed we must.