Sima, our Jewish Israeli-born, ethnically Halabi (Aleppo, Syria), housekeeper gives the words “domestic assistant” a whole new spin. Yes, she is our housekeeper and for the past 20 years she has kept our home humming happily on her strictly regimented Israeli version of clean, neat and tidy. But she is also our resident scholar, domestically assisting us to a fuller understanding of what it really means to live in Israel and how to be good Israelis. Last week, I received another Israeli history lesson from her.
Just as I began puttering about on the computer, Sima stealthily snuck up behind me, mop in hand and in Hebrew said: “I was going to ask you to move to the other room, but I see that you are sitting up very straight. Tell me what are you reading with such attentive interest on your Facebook gossip device?”
I winced and then whinged: “SEEmah! Social Network! Facebook is a social network!”
She gave me one of her very best “Yes, dear, you are STILL a politically correct American” looks and asked again: “Nu? What are you reading on your gossip gathering device?”
I explained that I was reading my friend’s “Inclusive Jerusalem” Facebook group page and that in advance of the 45th Jerusalem Day (on 20 May 2012) he was “sharing personal memories and informational triggers to stimulate conversation about the reality that has settled on the city since 1967”. Seeing that the page was in English, Sima wanted to know, “Is Elan an Israeli born Israeli like me or is he an immigrant Israeli like you?”
“He’s Israeli born,” I answered and added, “Elan was 12 years old at the time of the Six Day War.” Sima then put down the mop, sat down in the chair next to me and asked me to translate what was written on his page. As I translated for her, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Sima was sitting up just as straight and attentive as I was. At the end of my reading she said: “That’s all very good writing, very accurate, good feeling. Can you add comments to that? I have a story for all of you.”
And then without waiting for me to answer she began her narrative:
“I was a soldier during the Six Day War. I served with the Paratroopers Unit that led the battle to win the Old City. “My boys” left for the battle from our base in Beit Shemesh. The other female soldiers and I stayed behind on the base running the communications lines.
Immediately after the battle was over, Motta*, our Commander, called the base and ordered us, the other female soldiers from our unit and me to come up to Jerusalem. So we took a command car and an ambulance and raced up the road to Jerusalem. I had never been in eastern Jerusalem or the Old City but I remembered my mother’s stories from her life there before 1948. It was like my mother said, it looked different from western Jerusalem, I felt as if we were driving inside my mother’s stories about to enter Halab (Aleppo) or Damascus. Everywhere there were Arabs but the battle was over and the whole city was ours! Isa, it was an amazing feeling, G-d gave us back all of our Jerusalem!
As we came up the road to Lion’s Gate we began seeing injured soldiers on the side of the road and we were a bit frightened. The ambulance stopped to care for the injured. We continued forward into the Old City. After entering Lion’s Gate, from the windows above us we heard the Arabic language running call “El Yahud Ja’u! El Yahud Ja’u!” (The Jews have arrived! The Jews have arrived!). The entire area was very small and crowded with our soldiers. We turned left, near the entry way to the Temple Mount we saw the covered bodies of our dead boys. It was very sad for me to see…I wondered which of my boys had died.
But I didn’t have time to think about that for very long. Just then an officer told us – ‘You are soldiers! Now you are the first Israeli female soldiers to enter the Old City since 1948. Go! Walk on Temple Mount so that you may be the first Israeli women to see what these soldiers died for.’ There were lots of trees on Temple Mount back then, and walking on Temple Mount was like magically being alive and in Heaven at the same time. All around us were our soldiers some carried flags and some put a small flag up over the Western Wall it was like seeing a dream as it became real.
It was sad and happy all at the same time. You understand, it is what you tell me you feel as our flag is going up the flag pole at the end of Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day)…you are very sad and suddenly it is Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) and you are happy with the sadness still mixed in. It is the same thing…”
*“Motta” is the Hebrew language nickname of Lt. Gen. Mordechai Gur, 10th Chief of Staff of The Israeli Defense Forces, during the Six-Day War he was the commander of the 55th (Reserve) Paratroopers Brigade, Sima’s unit.