My Israel Story #21: Rabbi Sarit Horwitz

Rabbi Sarit Horwitz is the rabbi at Beth Sholom Synagogue.

The summer between Kindergarten and First Grade, my parents decided to spend three months in Israel. This was my first trip to Israel, and despite being only six years old, it became the foundation for my connection with the land of Israel.

I remember the smells in the shuk in downtown Jerusalem as we shopped before Shabbat. I remember the slow, sad songs we sang while holding candles, sitting on the floor of the Yedidya synagogue in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood on Tisha B’Av. And I remember our apartment that summer at 6 Rachel Imeinu in the German Colony of Jerusalem, with the screened in porch where my brother and I slept.

Every morning, my older sister and I would stand outside on Rachel Imeinu street and wait for the Number 4 bus to take us to camp. That bus ride every morning, those insignificant 20 minutes, made me feel connected to the streets of the holy city more than most other things that summer. I would watch young and old people get on and off the bus, uniformed soldiers, religious and secular people alike. I heard Hebrew spoken not just in classrooms, but rolling off people’s tongues in casual, every-day conversation. It was on that Number 4 bus that my six-year-old-self developed an appreciation for the many layers of fabric of Israeli society, the many cultures and languages spoken.

Every day that summer, I wore a purple and pink baseball hat. The material had kind of a nylon, plasticy feel; I can’t really describe it, but if I close my eyes I can imagine the fabric as I rub it through my fingers. One day towards the end of that summer, I left my hat on that Number 4 bus. I didn’t realize it until I got off the bus at the Goldstein Youth Village in the San Simon neighborhood of Jerusalem and the bus was pulling away. We only had a few days left in Israel and I was worried, rightfully, that I wouldn’t ever get my hat back.

My hat had accompanied me and was witness to all the experiences I had in Israel. That hat, which I don’t recall ever wearing before that Israel trip, held inside of it the people on the bus with me, and the smells (both good and bad); the very streets of Jerusalem were in that hat. While I meticulously checked every Number 4 bus that I found myself riding, I never did find that hat.

A decade and a half later, while in college and studying psychology, I spent a summer in Jerusalem working at a mental health rehabilitation center in the Talpiot neighborhood. I lived in an apartment with a friend, both of us wanting to have an experience of living like real adults in Jerusalem. We lived in the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem just above a grocery store and a cafe. Perhaps the most Israeli thing about that summer was the number of borekas I ate from that cafe. I found myself walking down Rachel Imeinu street, only a few minutes from my apartment that summer, and looked up at a building that looked strangely familiar – building Number 6.

I looked up and saw that screened in porch. Across the street was a bus stop; the sign said the Number 4 bus stopped there. Flooded with memories I didn’t remember having, I smiled to myself, recalling that summer where the seeds of my love for Israel were planted.

I smiled to myself, remembering that dear hat, and the way it bore witness to all of those smells, all of those different people that came in and out, all of those different languages spoken on my morning ride to camp. Looking up at building Number 6, despite not having lived there for 15 years, I was home.