Today, I went to the Mount of Olives with my boss in search of a tombstone of her grandfather and great-grandparents. Most of the scanning of the old documents I’m doing are from these 3 people (the Palestine and Kosher Wine blog was about these people, if I have my generational math correct). Anyways, we found an old burial certificate that had some essential information on it that had been missing in the quest to find these graves. Her father had tried once to locate them but couldn’t do it and my boss has since made it her quest to go there one day. Anyways, we ended up finding said holy-grail-of-a-document and my boss made an appointment to be escorted to the correct grave. The other day she came into the office frustrated that none of her children wanted to see the grave – “you and I should just go. My kids don’t care at all!” (heavy sigh) I shrugged my shoulders and offered: “I’ll go with you!” I do have an attachment to these documents and the people behind them – after 9 hours a day photocopying and scanning something, how can you not feel attached? She was happy to have the company and glad that I was “bonding” with these projects. We met up with the guide in an Arab neighborhood literally across the street from an entrance to the University and, after driving through more Arab neighborhoods and around part of the Old City walls, he escorted us into a back entrance of the Mount of Olives.
After many calls to the main office to figure out exactly which spot it was in (they still don’t have a system of numbering the tombstones for easy access; as my boss explained to me (take this how you will): “the Jordanians totally trashed it when they had control and it’s taken us forever to clean it up.” While they bickered about the exact location and muttering to themselves the Hebrew on the gravestone, I, knowing that once again I’m totally useless when it comes to anything having to do with Hebrew, I stopped to enjoy the breeze, overlooking the vast tombstone with a backdrop of the Temple Mount outlined by the Old City walls on one side and a the West Bank outlined by the security barrier on the opposite side; in between the two views was an Arab neighborhood with a new cluster of Jewish homes in the middle flying Israeli flags in the middle and a small mosque in the middle. I was overcome with the mixture of these things – I shouldn’t be by now. As my boss was chatting in Hebrew, trying to find graves of some of the most influential people in early Zionist history (one of them founded Petah Tikvah), I was overlooking the Old City, dominated by this gorgeous gold and blue-tiled structure and on the opposite side, the political plight/frustration/confusion/backwardness of the West Bank and the newest symbol of Israeli hopes for security/illegal construction/colonialist expansion – however you view all of these things. When we finally found the graves, my boss did an impromptu prayer from Psalms and we placed stones on each grave. As we left, the security guide (a fairly illiterate person as he couldn’t read my boss’ printed email but did his best to explain things to me in English, he was a Jew from Damascus who had just come to Israel in the 1990s – a unique story in and of itself) reminded us to wash our hands after – it’s customary to wash off the “polutedness” of death – my boss asked me to rinse off her hands before touching anything. I ended my day first going to the Kotel to pray, then through the Jewish quarter, winding my way through the birthright kids flirting with their guards over ice cream, to the Arab market to get some figs, back on the bus through the ultra, ultra Orthodox Mea Shearim, talked with a woman from Sri Lanka on the bus who has been working here for 3 years (when I asked her if she liked it or missed home she almost yelled at me: of course I LOVE it! It’s the holy land!), past more Arab neighborhoods, and back to home-sweet-home French hill. As much as I miss it, NoHo is not this interesting.