Real Israelis

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A36 semgirl6

On the last Tuesday night in March I met Sami at midnight outside the Jaffa Gate to the Old City. It was colder than usual that day, and after sunset the temperature had plummeted so that I could see my breath while I waited for him, sitting on a bench facing out over the Sultan’s Pool. For all the talk about the beauty of Jerusalem I secretly thought it was hideous: dirty, full of pushy people stacked on top of each other, grungy sheets flapping on clotheslines, mismatched crumbling architecture. It was true that life felt more potent in Jerusalem, that the city had a palpable intensity to it, but looking out over the swerving highway, construction, and flickering streetlights, I missed the rigid grid of Chicago, the brick houses on the flat horizon, and the clear, even way the world revealed itself in the Midwest.

Sami sat down heavily next to me, smelling like soap and wearing a long-sleeved white collared shirt under an unzipped grey jacket. He looked good, and when I turned to kiss his cheek he ran his hand through my hair. There was so much tenderness in the gesture–it had none of his usual reserve or anxiety–that I smiled back awkwardly, wondering what had changed.

“Want to walk around a little?” he asked, already standing up.

“Sure,” I said, following him up the pathway that went north, along the walls.

“Did your brother like the present?”

The week before I’d told Sami about the book I’d sent to Ari for his birthday. He’d asked for a Medieval commentary on the Torah, and I’d found one in a religious bookstore downtown, but when I shipped it I took the cover off my copy of He’s Just Not That Into You and put it on his commentary so that he’d be confused and annoyed when he first opened the package. He had called the day it arrived to tell me how funny it had been when he’d opened the box in front of his roommates. They had all been mortified on his behalf. Sami was intrigued by the fact that there was such a thing as a book called He’s Just Not That Into You and had asked me to explain to him what it was about.

“Yeah, he thought it was funny.”

We walked along without talking for a while. It was a comfortable silence, or at least it felt comfortable to me.

“Did you tell your brother about me?” Sami asked and then reached behind me, circling his arm around my waist so I was tucked up against his side, both of us still walking.

I laughed to myself. “No. I don’t think he’d approve.”

“I told my brother.”

“Which one?”

“Youssef. Who wants to be an architect.”

“What did he say?”

“He wants to meet you.”

I stopped walking.


Sami shrugged. “He wants to see what you’re like.”

“I don’t think I should meet him,” I said, and rubbed one of my eyes, trying not to look at Sami’s face.

“Just for a minute,” he said, his voice urgent and his hand on my shoulder again.

“Wait- you mean now?”


“In the middle of the night?” I heard my voice rise, the panic obvious and embarrassing.

Sami frowned and stopped touching me. “Why, are you scared?”

I looked away from him and focused on the wall behind him, massive blocks of stone stacked to keep things separated. A breeze came and blew around and between the two of us standing there, and I felt the cold through my jacket.

“Just for a minute,” I said, and turned back in the direction we had been walking.

We went the rest of the way without talking, a few inches between us and my mind slowly filling up with fear.

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Author of Jewrotica's Double Mitzvah column, Tamar Fox is a writer and editor in Philadelphia. She will try anything once, including open relationships, dating someone who is chalav yisrael, and going to Suriname.