"Dogs were barking, guests were parking, and my wedding was about to start!"
A week after my arrival in Israel, a couple of big and important things happened. First, I haplessly found myself living in a country at war. Second, I made the acquaintance of an individual who insisted that he was a) not only completely in love with me, but, b) convinced that we should get married as soon as possible. To say the least, both experiences had a way of sandwiching me in to the moment. And it was not a matter of choosing which side was more surreal.
Each night, the sky was covered in moving white clouds from rounds of artillery fired in the West Bank and from the on-going military incursions in the north. During the first few days of the war, several would-be suicide bombers were stopped in the area where I stood alone only a few days before at the Western Wall. The pop-pop-pop of random gunfire from somewhere in the distance became commonplace and even routine. I quickly learned how to judge the distance of a firefight from the depth of the echo which emanated through the hillsides of East Jerusalem. Every evening, notably at dusk, I would sit with the window open and listen the booming voice of an angry Arab man who made the same brutal anti-Semitic and anti-American statements on the loudspeaker of a mosque in the Arab settlement at the base of the eastern slope of Mount Scopus. I quickly realized that word doesn't just travel fast in Israel, it echos. It reverberates. In fact, the rhetoric of the ages has nothing to stop it from bouncing between stone buildings, stone cemeteries, and very sad olive trees.
For me, it was a particularly tough time to be a lone white girl in the Middle East. While Americans were being evacuated all over the place, I found it difficult to make a 10-minute walk to the local falafel stand on the French Hill. This was especially problematic at dusk. Carloads of teenage boys would roll up and down the street, harassing any white female they could. A girl I knew from school had tomatoes thrown at her while she walked alone. Another, younger girl, was pinned against a wall and felt up by 3 young Arab kids. Rightfully so, my friends and family back home were practically crawling out of their skin with fear for my safety. Of course, I constantly reassured them that I was safe and wasn't taking risks, but, in reality, I also realized that going out alone was a risk in itself.
Call it fortuitous timing, call it situational stress...I've never been a woman who considers herself "in need" of a man. However, I will say that shortly into my courtship with my Jewish Jerusalem Boyfriend (JJB), I consciously had to admit that in light of the circumstances around us, I deeply appreciated what comfort I took in his company.
Bombs were dropping, and he was surprising me with elaborate arrangements of roses. Innocent people were dying, and he would pull the plug on the television and insist that we get dressed up and head out to the best restaurant in Jerusalem. Like I said, it was beyond surreal.
I won't dare to say that JJB could be described as "charming". If anything, I am polite in saying that his personality was "intense". However, one must bear in mind that everything in this moment was intense. I was swimming in the tinderbox of humanity. A war was going on. Jerusalem was crawling with crazy people, drug addicts, stone-throwing, pasty and undernourished, ultra orthodox children, Jesus-Wanna-Be's, Korean Born-Again Christians... The owner of the falafel stand proudly displayed pictures of successful suicide bombers from the Intifada on his wall. Average civilians carried semi-automatic rifles, sometimes two. No one around me practiced patience. Sometimes, the noise of mortar fire was so penetrating that I wondered if the earth was going to open up and swallow us all. And so, in light of this, I suppose it's not surprising that accepted the offer of hope that got thrown to me.
Only a few days into our courtship, we sat at a heavily-guarded foccacia bar in West Jerusalem, among a crowd of elites and New York jews on vacation. We shared a bottle of wine from the Golan. He had pasta; I had a steak. I remember being exhausted from my class that day, and emotionally drained from the war. The sun was going down, and, as always, it was turning into a beautiful, clear, Jerusalem night. (Save for the gunfire in the distance.) He looked over at me from across the table and said, "I know you think I'm crazy, but I know in my heart that we are right for each other."
He paused, took another sip of wine, took my hand in his, and then said, "There's something I want to ask you."
"What's that?", I said.
"Will you marry me?"
Silence. Even for a minute, I stopped hearing gunfire. Before I could answer, the older Jewish-American man sitting at the table next to us leaned closer. In an abrupt Brooklyn accent, he said, "Say yes, honey!! Say yes! You shouldn't let this one slip away!"
I looked over to see the man's bleached blond elderly wife nodding in enthusiastic agreement. Oh, god, oh my god! Oh my god, no, this is NOT happening!!, I thought to myself. This is even way too crazy for reality TV!
That entire evening, all I could think was, What... on earth... have I gotten myself into?
I, for one,wasn't completely convinced that this was love. In fact, I wasn't sure if I had fallen in it or stepped in it...