The Story of Grandmother Rivka

GRANDMOTHER RIVKA FROM THE OLD CITY OF JERUSALEM

Savta (Grandmother) Rivka lives in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.  Her house is very old.

Savta Rivka’s house has many rooms.  One of them has been set up as a synagogue with benches and a Holy Ark with a Torah scroll inside.

The house is built around a courtyard.  A mulberry tree grows in the middle of the courtyard, and a bench stands under its spreading branches.

Savta Rivka has a granddaughter named Nurit.  When Nurit visits her grandmother they both sit on the bench in the shade of the mulberry tree.  After a hug from her grandmother, Nurit usually says: “Now, Savta, please tell me a story – please.”

“I have so many stories,” answers Savta, smiling.  “Which one would you like to hear today?”

One day, when they were sitting on the bench, Savta Rivka said to Nurit:  “Today I shall tell you a story I have never told you before.”  So Savta Rivka told Nurit this story.

“When I was a little girl, I lived in this same house, here in the Jewish Quarter.  My father was the rabbi of the Quarter, and all the people came to the synagogue in our house to pray.

One day Abba called me into the courtyard.  He was holding a sack.  Opening it, he took out a sapling.  “This sapling is a very young mulberry tree,” he said.  “I’ve been wanting to plant a tree in our courtyard for a long time.  All of us, including our children and grandchildren, will enjoy its fruit and its shade.”

I helped Abba plant the sapling in the courtyard.  The tree grew very quickly.

Everyone gathered around the tree.  The children played there with their dolls and marbles.  The grown-ups sat on the bench, talking and drinking coffee or tea.  All the people of the Jewish Quarter knew they could find my father, every evening, sitting on the bench under the mulberry tree, where he would advise those who came to him for help.

One morning, the soldiers entered our courtyard and called the people of the neighbourhood together.  “We cannot protect you any longer,” said the commanding officer sadly.  “All Jews must leave the Jewish Quarter within the next few hours.  Everyone must take only what he or she can carry.  Exactly at noon, we will gather at Zion Gate and go to the New City of Jerusalem!”

The people looked at each other sadly and, without a word, returned to their homes.  Our next door neighbours approached Abba and said:  “We must save the Torah scrolls.”

“Of course,” replied Abba,” of course we will take them with us.”

I did not understand what was happening.  “Where will we live?”  I asked Abba.  “What will happen to our house?”  Abba just hugged me tightly.  His face looked so sad.

Just before we started out, I looked around the courtyard and at the mulberry tree in the centre.  “Who will water the tree now that we’re going?” I wondered sadly.

“Rivka, hurry up!” called Abba.  With one last look at the tree, I ran out to the street and joined my mother and all our neighbours.  Abba stood tall at the head of the crowd, holding his Torah scroll high so that everyone could see it.  Then we started walking slowly towards Zion Gate.

At Zion Gate, the people crowded around Abba.  In a trembling voice he said:  “We will return to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City some day.  Jews have lived in Jerusalem from the time of King David, and no one can keep us from living here.”

So we left the Old City.  We lived in the New City for many years, but always deeply missed our home in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.  Abba longed for it so much that he never felt really at home in Jerusalem’s New City.   We couldn’t even visit our old home, or go there to water the mulberry tree, because now a high concrete wall separated the Old City from the New City.

A long time after this, there was a war between the Jews and the Arabs. At the end of it, Jerusalem became one city again.  The wall between the Old City and the New City was torn down, and we returned to the Jewish Quarter.  I shall never forget that day!

When we reached our house, it looked old and ruined.  The mulberry tree still stood in the courtyard.  It was dried out, but a few leaves still hung on it.  “You weren’t taken care of at all,” I whispered to it.  I filled a bucket with water and poured it around the trunk of the tree.  “I will take care of you,” I continued whispering.  “You will be fresh and green once again.”

Savta stopped speaking.  She looked up at the tree.  So did Nurit.  “It really is fresh and green now,” said Nurit.  She looked at the house and asked:  “Savta, is this really the way it was when you were a little girl?”

“Yes,” said Savta.  “When we came back here, we collected all the old pots, fixed the old furniture and arranged the house just as it had been before.  Now we have a house which is not quite new, but not quite old.”

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