I’m in the car with my best friend, and we’ve just had lunch at this quiet, quaint restaurant with huge windows so close up to the Old City walls it’ll make you gasp- hippie bowls of grains with roasted vegetables and a big, oil-slicked plate of glossy green lentils her baby couldn’t stop grabbing. We’re about to make a left onto my street, when suddenly police cars come wailing past, followed by big trucks carrying horses, vans with police dogs, and then: ambulances. We’re stuck in the middle lane, so there’s not much we can do. We alternate between closing the windows to keep the noise out, and opening them to try and understand what’s going on. The Old City is sprawled out to our right, majestic and strong.
I refresh the news ticker on my iPhone: nothing yet. When I get home, I sit on the couch and learn that two soldiers were shot, and a few minutes later, one has died. Female, twenty. Helicopters hover low in the sky.
My neighbors call: Are you ok? Did you hear the gunshots?
My landlord threatens to increase my rent because the air-conditioning- that has not been installed yet- has added value to the property.
When he comes to visit for the first time in two and a half years, he calls to ask for directions. A few minutes later, he calls back, saying he drove straight into the Arab side. His voice is anxious, full of panic.
I want to say: This is where I live.
Around the corner, people are getting stabbed, killed. I leave my house with a can of pepper spray in my hand, at the ready.
In winter, my house is so cold that I sleep with socks, sweaters, a hot water bottle, the radiator next to my bed turned to the highest dial. I’m still cold.
He says: I can replace you easily.
Since leaving my parents’ home at nineteen, I’ve lived in rather sketchy neighborhoods. Beersheba: syringes littered the sidewalks; Brooklyn, the subway heaving way past the hip neighborhoods, further and further along the alphabet. The multicultural web of Pakistanis, and ultra-orthodox Jews and massive housing projects with kids playing in the fire hydrants in summer. And now this, this neighborhood that tumbles into East Jerusalem. Fireworks, gunshots, the wail of the muezzin piercing the darkness. I wonder what it is that pulls me in, again and again. Me, who has so much fear.
I live in this hundred-year-old, three story house, dilapidated yet heartbreakingly beautiful, that has been divided up into apartments. I share one of my walls with this huge family. They leave their door open a lot, the kids running in and out, using the hallway as more breathing room. They race its length on scooters, cower in a corner for time-out, the older ones sprawl out on the staircase smoking, drinking cans of coke they’ll leave behind. On holidays, they barbecue on the stoop, the smoke wafting in. I can hear snippets of their discussions through the paper-thin walls. Today, the father’s eldest son taunts the mother’s daughter: “You’re living in sin,” he says. “You’re living with a man and you don’t even have a ring.”
I’m not used to hearing the noise of neighbors like this, not that I’ve lacked opportunity. In Brooklyn, we shared a townhouse divided into two, but the mysterious older lady who used the upper half only came in once a month. In Beersheva, we lived in a house with neighbors only on one side, our door far from theirs, the screeching main street leading to the hospital on the other. We would hear ambulances, sirens. Jerusalem: a wide staircase, the thick Jerusalem stone insulating, isolating. When my brother lived there after us, the downstairs neighbors used to complain of drilling; clearly, though, we hadn’t been the handy type. Before that, Beersheba again: the upstairs neighbors flushing their toilets, the sound of footsteps on the staircase, nothing more.
The other walls I share with neighbors I’ve grown close to, and it feels safe and warm. They ask how I’m doing, they bring me an extra portion of still-warm soup. I leave bundles of herbs on their doorknob, cakes warm from the oven. When the loneliness creeps in, I knock on their door.
Across the street from our neighborhood corner store almond trees break out in full blossom. I pick huge branches and place them in a towering bouquet on my dining room table. My house is quiet and still and peaceful and smells soft and sticky from the blossoms. I can make out the sounds of a basketball game in the neighborhood court, someone playing the guitar in the square below. Beyond the thick marble windowsills I can catch glimpses of the Old City walls. It’s been an unnaturally sunny few days, and the weather is beginning to change. A haze descends on the hills as night approaches.
PS. I’ve since moved, and I have underfloor heating (!). My new apartment is in a quiet neighborhood and my way to/from home no longer includes passing through a square with police cars and soldiers on the alert. I no longer feel the unrest, even though it’s still there, just a few minutes away.
*I’ve written about the neighborhood, and the wave of terror we’ve experienced since September 2015, here.
Rosemary Olive Oil Cake
This cake comes together in less than ten minutes, and I like that about it. It’s moist and fragrant with olive oil, studded with chocolate chunks and has just the right amount of intrigue from the rosemary. There’s nothing quite like the comfort of a cake warm from the oven. I like to bake it in mini loaf pans, to share.
Olive oil for the pan
3/4 cup / 3 oz / 80 g spelt flour
1 1/2 cups / 7.5 oz / 210 g all-purpose flour
3/4 cup / 4 oz / 115 g sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup / 240 ml olive oil (the more flavorful the better)
3/4 cup / 180 ml whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped, plus a few leaves for garnish
5 oz / 140 g bittersweet chocolate (70%), chopped (aim for 1/2-inch pieces, and you’ll get all sorts of chunks and flecks- which is perfect)
2 tablespoons sugar
Preheat the oven to 350F / 175C. Rub a 9 1/2-inch (24 cm) fluted tart pan or a long (4 1/2 x 13 inch) loaf pan with olive oil (I used 3 mini loaf pans).
Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring any bits of grain or other ingredients left in the sifter back into the bowl. Set aside.
In a second large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the olive oil, milk and rosemary and whisk again. Using a spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry, gently mixing until just combined. Stir in 2/3 of the chocolate. Pour the batter into the pan, spreading it evenly and smoothing the top. Sprinkle with the remaining chocolate and run a fork along the length of the chocolate so that the batter envelops it just a bit. Sprinkle with the 2 tbs sugar, and garnish with rosemary leaves.
Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is domed, golden brown, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
The cake keeps well, wrapped tightly in plastic, for at least 2 days.