I love my city. It calls to me; beckons to me. And because I love it so much and am so curious about its history, I decided to enroll in an intense one year course sponsored by Beth Jacob Seminary in conjunction with the Jerusalem Municipality, to become a Jerusalem tour guide.
And that is how I found myself, on an icy cold January evening, standing on a windswept mountain with twenty five other women, most at least twenty years younger than myself, our necks tilted upwards, gazing at the stars. Our guide pointed out the different stars (kochvei shevet, “sitting stars,” because they remain in the same place in relationship to each other) and planets (kochvei lechet, “traveling stars” because they move across the sky) and then let us view Jupiter with a telescope. Yes, I managed to find three its four moons.
Afterwards, he taught us how to find the North Star, so that if we ever find ourselves lost in the streets of Jerusalem late at night, we’ll know how to find our way home – although to me, Jerusalem is, and always will be, home, and if do find myself lost in its sometimes confusing circular streets, I’ll ask someone where I am, or, worse comes to worse, flag down a taxi.
“Over there,” he began, pointing with his laser beam to a group of stars in the north-east sky, “is the great shopping cart in the sky.”
“See, there’s the basket. Underneath it, you can see the handle.”
What’s it called in English?” I asked, I wondered how I could have lived in Israel for over thirty eight years without ever hearing about the great shopping cart in the sky (maybe that’s why my food bills are always so astronomical).
“Soup ladle; an upside down soup ladle.”
It took me a couple of seconds to translate that into the Big Dipper.
“Make an imaginary line between the two stars of the shopping cart’s handle,” our guide explained, using his laser beam to make it crystal clear. “The line points straight to the North Star; it’s five times the distance between the two stars that make up the shopping cart’s handle.”
My neck was beginning to hurt from staring up into the sky for so long.
Our guide then pointed out the Cassiopeia constellation, “the Big W in the sky.” “The middle star always points directly to the Northern Star,” he explained. Simple and easy; how could I possibly miss it? The sparkling lights seemed to jump out at me, and I wondered why I never noticed these things before.
The following evening, as I was taking my evening power walk up and down the streets of my inner-city neighborhood, I found myself staring up at the stars, trying to find the constellations that seemed so obvious to me the previous night when they had almost screamed their presence.
But I couldn’t find any of them. Not the M, nor the big shopping cart, not even the northern star. They were obscured by the pulsating lights of Jerusalem. The exquisite points of light that disrupted the inky emptiness were now blurred into a fuzzy oneness.
I will probably never again climb a windswept mountain at midnight to gaze at the stars over Jerusalem. But now, at least, I know they exist. I know there are realities that remain constant, and that never change, but that they can become obscured by the pulsating lights that continually surround me. And at least I have their memory.
Debbie Shapiro is a widely published author and a longtime Jerusalem resident. Her latest book, Women Talk, is a compilation of interviews with great Jewish women—and all Jewish women are great! To read more of her articles or contact her for speaking engagements, please visit her blogspot, Debbie Shapiro of Jerusalem
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Debbie Shapiro of Jerusalem
OU L’Ayla’s Mission to Israel
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