I wrote this about 4 years ago, I read it tonight and dreamed again. Maybe you will too.
I met Arnie four years ago in a small town outside of Jerusalem, called Ein Karem, famous for being the place where Mary visited Elisabeth when she was first pregnant with Yeshua. Ein Karem attracts spiritualists and seekers; many believe that this hillside town possesses a quality that allows deeper communication into spiritual realms. It’s a city of artists and activists, musicians and writers, protesters and poets. There was time, before the intifada that you would walk into her cafés and see Palestinians and Israelis eating at the same table. Why? Because Ein Karem allowed them to be together.
I join Liz, a friend of mine visiting Israel from Louisiana, as she travels to Ein Karem to meet her Hebrew teacher’s Father, Arnie, who made Aliyah (immigrated from NY city to Israel) about 10 years ago. I mistake Arnie for being a very old man when I first see him. His hair is yellowish white – like the color a half smoked, tossed out cigarette, his skin – parched olive. He’s wearing a burlap shirt and Bedouin trousers. His kippa is what the Sephardi wear; a bright, multi colored, squarish and fitted hat that resembles the head covering for Mutahs. The most interesting thing about Arnie is that he’s holding a staff (which is what makes him appear very old to me). It is the first thing I notice about him when I step out of the taxi. He is standing there leaning on his staff as we walk towards him.
I immediately think this will be an interesting night. I want to call him Moses, his staff is slightly amusing to me but I opt to keep my mouth shut. He has the most provoking eyes, like aged pieces of sea tossed glass.
Arnie is the founder and director of the International Center for Creative Music in Ein Karem. We meet him just outside his office/school. He brings us inside to give a tour. We walk into a large classroom room with loads of music books stacked on the floor and pressed tight against the white cinder block walls. There is a black upright piano in the middle of the room and beside it are about twenty vinyl records spilled out on the tile floor. On the walls hang black and white photographs of musicians sporadically nailed …here and there. Like somebody just threw them on the wall and they stuck.
He stands in the middle of his room next to the piano, and says with the energy of an evangelist, “This is where it happens, this is where we make our music. This is where we make our peace.” He begins to unfold his story. “This building is used to bring reconciliation between Palestinian musicians and Israeli musicians. We are reconciled by the music we create.” I can’t quite take this man seriously. I’ve been living in Israel three months and at this point I feel nothing will unite this land. He sees that I can’t hide my skepticism. So he takes me by the hand and we walk out of the building and go to the café next door. He introduces Liz and me to his “Palestinian brothers” that are eating at this Israeli café. They greet me warmly, not worried if I’m Jewish or not Jewish, if I’m a Zionist or a zealot, or if I’m American or not American…they simple see me as Arnie’s friend. This quietly speaks volumes to me.
Arnie takes us to his home. But first we go to his garden to watch the sunset. He laughs as he tells us that people call him the old man in the garden…because he spends so much time… he stops mid sentence, points to a patch of pine trees across the way and says…”Look there, that’s where Elisabeth prophesied to Miriam.” Odd thing for a Jewish man to say, I think, but I understand that for Arnie, and many Jewish artists like him that live in Ein Karem, it’s not whether they believe that Miriam was the mother of the Messiah, it’s that they believe something spiritually profound happened here. And so, I enjoy the moment with him…trying less to figure this man out then before, my defenses, for some reason, not as guarded now.
Liz and I follow Arnie into his home. He brings us hot mint tea and we sit and listen to him describe how he played with all the great Jazz artists in the 60’s. He pulls out a photo album from the shelf, in it I see all the faces that Professor Baker taught me to recognize. When he finishes, he shows me a picture of his daughter, Marya, a beautiful Sephardi woman with long, curly hair that matches her midnight eyes. “She’s a jazz singer that lives in New York city.” he says proudly, “She just had a concert in Tel Aviv. They loved her.” He gives me her CD. He signs it for me, it reads: To Joy – from the old man in the garden. Your friend, Arnie Lawrence
We are about to leave, when Arnie explains that he has a gig in Ramallah that evening. He’s playing for the grand opening of his Palestinian friend’s Lebanese restaurant. He invites us to come and see him play. Ramallah! Can I really go to Ramallah and expect to be safe? But when would I ever have the chance to experience Ramallah again? So, Liz and I jump at the chance, and agree to go.
We are joined by a handful of musicians, socialites, activists, several armed PLO guards escorting us and one journalist who happens to be writing an article for the Jerusalem Post about this event. I’m sitting quiet in the taxi, having a surreal, “how did this happen to me” feeling. I love it!
That evening, we are served the most amazing food. A meza was set in typical Lebanese fashion with an endless supply of grilled lamb, hummus, fresh olives, hot flat bread, grape leaves, and every other traditional Middle Eastern food imaginable. I sit across from a Palestinian woman who constantly puts more food on my plate. Arnie leans over and whispers to me, “Don’t say no, or she might take offense and then who knows what could happen.” I know he is joking but the guts to joke like that made me know he really felt comfortable here.
Later that evening, after all the food is served, after the sticky baklava is eaten and all the Turkish coffee has been poured, Arnie pulls out his tenor saxophone and begins to play, sweetly and softly. Slowly, others around the table pull out their instruments and join along. The entire restaurant stands in quiet surrender to the beauty of the music. A music without language, yet speaking so beautifully to all of us. When I hear Arnie play I want to believe everything he has told me. I want to believe that he is being used in some small way to bring peace. I want to think that reconciliation might be achieved gradually in some way through Arnie’s small victories. And for that evening I chose to allow this man and the poetry of his saxophone persuade me to dream of the possibilities.
*Arnie died about three years ago. I never imagined that I might someday be put to a similiar task.