If I forget thee, O Jerusalem… So goes the Psalm.
I could never forget. Nor do I want to.
Jerusalem: the holy city. A place with a long and tumultuous past, present and future. Pilgrims, politicians and regular people flock there constantly. It’s where Rebekah Osgood and I met.
(The Jerusalem skyline. My view every morning.)
You never quite know someone till you live with them, travel with them…or till you go to karaoke with them. Rebekah and I have done all three things together. Seven years ago, we were housemates at the kfar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. We didn’t get along. The sparks flew.
If you told me that we would be welting out Bohemian Rhapsody in a karaoke room in Yokohama seven years later, my reaction would have been, “What are you smoking?”
But life, travel and…karaoke changes you.
Despite our differences, Rebekah and I are very similar. Perhaps that’s why we clashed so much? She’s adventurous and independent. It is these very qualities that drew the both of us to live in Israel.
(Cotton candy or candy floss? Hmm…)
I’d already lived on my own in Australia for two years before moving to Jerusalem. For Rebekah on the other hand…
“I had a meltdown the night before I flew out,” she says. “I was crying. I thought I had made the wrong choice. What am I doing? I had a ‘five year old moment’ and went to mum to cuddle. It was my first time being on my own like that.”
“First impressions?” I ask.
“Internal shock,” she says. “I’m here, I’m doing this. I don’t know anyone. What is this place. I’m not going to get used to this. The walk from Hebrew University to the dorm I was thinking ‘Don’t get lost. Don’t get lost. Don’t get lost.’ I was also the first of the five of us to arrive in an empty apartment.”
(Hebrew University’s of Jerusalem’s Rothberg International School)
“What was special to you about Jerusalem?” I ask.
“The history,” she says. “And the diversity that comes with that history. There are so many people that are interested in that area. And it’s not just the religious history – but also that history of conquering and destroying. And then seeing what has been preserved and seeing artefacts of various time periods so close to each other.”
“Israel also has a connection to my own personal history – Abraham, Jesus, David and now I’m there as well.”
There is something special about living in that city. The energy there is just… different. When I first arrived in Jerusalem, I was agnostic. Whilst I still have issues with identifying with any particular set of religious beliefs – I no longer doubt the existence of a higher power.
It was a huge mental and spiritual shift from who I was before. I was on my journey and Rebekah was on hers. But we would continue to clash until a school trip to the Negev Desert. That’s when I finally grew to *ahem* love *ahem* and understand her.
(Hiking in the Negev Desert. Image Courtesy of Rebekah Osgood.)
As a born-and-bred city girl, I’m not the world’s best hiker. I’ve gotten better over the years, but Mother Nature still confuses me. Rebekah was super patient with me. When you’re alone with someone in the desert, you will form some kind of bond…eventually.
“It was the first time not living with my parents,” she says. “No matter who you are – the first time doing that – you’re definitely going to change.”
Born and raised in the USA, it was Rebekah’s first time not being part of the ‘majority’.
“There was a sharp contrast between my Talmud professor and Judaism professor,” she says. “My Talmud professor – once he found out I was Christian – he would pick on me. He expected everyone to have a really high level of synagogue Hebrew. He would do all these things in Hebrew and I couldn’t understand. My Judaism professor, on the other hand, was really awesome. He was one of the few practising Jewish people who wasn’t off put by me not being Jewish. And he was engaging during class.
“I would say that ignorance leads you to say dumb things. But you don’t know what you’re saying cause you’re ignorant.
“Experiencing life as a minority is very valuable and I wish that more people could have that experience and be willing to have that experience.
“It changes your awareness.
“It made me aware of how hurtful broad-reaching statements are. Everyone can do this – everyone knows this – how do you not know this. I’m different – so I don’t know. It’s not fair for you to say that everyone knows. It’s just not reality.
“I stepped into myself and what I enjoy and what I want to do in Israel. I embraced my me-ness in Israel.”
This ‘me’ that we found in Jerusalem, we would take with us everywhere. Rebekah wound up in Antarctica and I would up in Japan.
But no matter where we go – or where we go next, we will never thee O Jerusalem.