[ Excerpt]

(A solitary night in the Sinai turns into an eerie and magical encounter)

There is an hour in Jerusalem when one can almost smell the burnt offerings. When the sky, purple, orange, sage, cracks open for a moment to allow in the day's load of prayers and curses, then closes up again, majestic and mysterious as the lights come on below the ancient walls, and cars weave down the thin roads that lead out of the city, and silence blows in from the east.

At this hour, I would usually pull a chair outside the small cottage I had rented and watch evening approach, or take a walk down to Mishkenot Shaananim to watch dusk soften the just-lit walls, to hear the bells of mules in a nearby village mingle with the unintentional medley of opposing prayers.

It was 1976 and I was 21 and living in Jerusalem with the conviction (that one can only have at that age) that I had found my place in the world, had stumbled upon where I was supposed to be.

I had fallen completely and passionately in love with Jerusalem with its strange golden light, its babel of languages, its bougainvillea and almond blossom, its disputed and thrice-claimed god. I had fallen in love, too, with the country around it. Had I been asked to explain it, I would have said that it was as if I had stumbled upon in those teeming streets, by the turquoise sea and in that shimmering heat, the maelstrom of some recurrent dream.
Whether it was the East with its sultry ways, its lid full of half-turned instinct and mystery, or whether it was the thrill of having left behind the life that had been prescribed for me, all I knew was I wanted to be a part of this beautiful and complicated place, to move in its sultry rhythm, to learn its veiled Levantine ways.

So that when I heard everyone talking about the Sinai desert that lay hours south, I knew that I needed to go. Travelers described dunes alongside a brilliant blue sea, Bedouin on camels, beautiful reefs. In the few weeks that remained before classes began, I gathered together a few new friends and headed for the great hills of sand, for the ancient tongue of sea said to lick like a memory at the banks of two lands...

©Tehila Lieberman

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