Sunday, October 26, 2003

Final honours

Saturday night, October 25, 2003
Motzaei Shabbat Bereishit

It's hard exiting the sukkah, leaving the womblike dim light filtering through the branches and stepping back out under the wide open blue skies. We had looked forward to spending the festival with my mother this year, but it was not meant to be.

Instead, we stood under such azure skies a few days after the festival as we consecrated her tombstone. She always adored this sky. She said that nowhere in the world are there such clear, bright blue skies as in Israel.

The silence of the tranquil rustic cemetery was broken by skyward sounds: birdsong and the frequent whop-whop of military helicopters. As I was delivering the eulogy, a jet roared overhead. Despite the sombre moment, it was hard not to turn my eyes heavenward to try and identify the tiny dot among the vapour trails: an F-16, or perhaps more of the modified Phantoms which had streaked across the sky during my mother's funeral, a coincidental honour guard. "My eagle-eyed daughter", my mother would say. "How does she know these things?" She would have laughed.

My mother would have loved that blissful hill. A fine place for her final home. Wooded slopes surrounding the graves of Jerusalem stone. The air scented with Jerusalem pine and cypress, the high ground affording refreshing mountain breezes. My mother never liked the heat.

It's unsettling to conclude a tombstone setting. It's not like a funeral where you go home and sit shiva and spend a week in mourning. You stand there and reopen all the memories and then you just go home and get on with things. We decided to go out for a memorial lunch in Mum's honour.

Beit Anna Ticho, a favourite Jerusalem haunt of hers, is a little sanctuary in the centre of noisy, crowded, central Jerusalem. At the top of the road is the bustle and hum of Neviim Street. At the bottom is the traffic and chaos of Jaffa Road. In between is Rav Kook Street, capped at one end by the municipal car pound, at the other by a taxi rank. In the middle is an easily overlooked alley leading to Rabbi Kook's historic home. Facing it, behind towering walls, is an enchanting garden.

In the garden is Beit Anna Ticho, a small art gallery with a cafe / restaurant, an island of flowers and trees amidst the Jerusalem stone buildings. Here we would come after a day about town, plonk ourselves on the terrace and gaze down on the gnarled olive trees and wispy pines. Onion soup and wild mushroom strudel, maybe pasta or salad, and then a hard choice between Mum's favourite desserts: iced coffee with ice cream, or hot brownies and chocolate sauce.

Today we had both, in her honour.

Leaving the restaurant, I remembered my last visit here. Standing at the edge of the flower lined path, in my mind's eye I saw my mother there as she had stood a few months ago, glowing in delight, cheeks flushed, eyes sparkling under a white straw hat, dappled sunlight flooding through the tree canopy above.

We must come again soon, she'd said. Indeed we must.

Shavua tov.