The Los Angeles Jewish Journal
The Boston Jewish Advocate
Ohio Jewish Chronicle
American Jewish World • 2003
There are plenty of beggars in Jerusalem and everyone has their favorites. Some people prefer the Hasid, stooped over double on the sidewalk, hand out, head down, faceless, never seen, never seeing. To the believer, he offers the purest form of charity, where the donor does not know the recipient, nor the recipient the donor. Others prefer the elegantly dressed deaf-and-dumb man who plies the local eateries, carefully placing a well-worn card that explains his condition at each table. A minute later, when he collects his cards, he acknowledges everyone, contributor or not, with a nod. Some people gravitate to the man who sits in Zion Square and accosts passersby in a grating voice, “Hey, lady! You with the yellow hat! Give me a shekel, will you?” Then again, some people avoid him.
An old woman sits folded up near my bus stop, rain or shine. She is so frail, so wizened, that you know someone has carried her here, and left her. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t look up. Her only companions for the long day are a book of psalms written in oversize letters, two plastic bottles of water and an alms box. Instead of money, I bring her some hot food. She doesn’t know what to make of my offering. I hope she likes cheese pastries.
Some people prefer to get something more tangible for their money than just satisfaction. Some people want a blessing.
I usually manage a coin or two for the lady sitting opposite the Central Bus Station, the one wrapped in a green, ragged shawl, endlessly intoning…mazal, mazal, mazal (luck, only luck) in a nasally voice. For a shekel, she offers the Jewish answer to the Evil Eye, a short red woolen string to be tied around a baby’s wrist or simply tucked into your pocket for good luck. I echo her prayer and ache to pull her shawl a little closer around her shoulders. Then I board my bus.
Jerusalem boasts street musicians of all persuasion and talent. Organists wire up to the nearest store and, to the accompaniment of midtown traffic, churn out romantic oldies. Mandolinists vie for attention with saxophonists jazzing around. An elderly violinist, obviously a pro, calls up familiar classics, his fiddle case open for business.
A guitarist, together with two violinists, sets up shop outside my bank. Soon Vivaldi and Bach waft sweetly above the pedestrian mall. Entranced, I confide to the bank guard, the one checking customers for bombs, that he is a lucky man. Music soothes the soul.
Today, at my bus stop, I heard melodious singing: “Best wishes to you… give me a coin and you will be blessed.” Following the sound, I was surprised to find a colorfully dressed beggar wandering back and forth among us. Endlessly, he sang “Best of wishes..” all the while shaking his battered tambourine and smiling. Delighted by both the tune and the figure he cut, we couldn’t help but smile too. As he neared, teenager, housewife, Hasid, and businessman alike paused to drop coins into the upturned tambourine. And, one by one, as we boarded our buses, we received his blessing: have a safe journey.
These days, to a Jerusalemite, nothing sounds sweeter.