The bomb that exploded near the Rosh Ha’ir restaurant almost claimed Gabrielle’s brother’s life. Tzion lost a leg and the vision in his right eye in the attack, but four years later their entire family still carried the scars of that day.
Gabrielle stared at the passing scenery from the bus window. Jerusalem – her birthplace and home. A place she loved and, since Rosh Ha’ir, feared.
She loved walking its old sidewalks, knowing that more than three thousands years of history lay buried under her feet. She loved the snippets of heady, joyful music that often carried through its streets. Even the haunting Muslim ‘Adhan’ was a sound of home, a reminder of its fragile existence.
Yet, as the bus passed the University where she lectured in paleography, she felt the familiar unease creeping over her - the fear that had shadowed her since Rosh Ha’ir. The thought that the very scene she was looking at now could change, in a heartbeat, from normality to carnage.
Of her family, only her Grandmother seemed unaltered by the blast. Last month Gabrielle had broached this with her, only to instantly regret it.
“How is it you’ve kept your peace since Tzion got hurt, Savta?”
Her Grandmother’s eyes had danced with even greater delight than usual, at the opportunity granted her: “It’s not my own, Gabby. It’s Y’Shua’s shalom.”
Y’Shua. Savta, who called herself a ‘Messianic Jew’, had told her about him before. Gabrielle thought it an impossible contradiction. How could a Jew believe in the Christian’s Jesus? Although Gabrielle was proud of her Jewish heritage and, if pressed, would admit she believed in God, she saw no purpose in religion with all its many rules.
“Israel Museum,” the driver’s bored voice penetrated her thoughts.
This was her stop now that she was ‘on loan’ from the University, for the Museum’s three-week manuscript exhibition. The Vatican Library had brought their half of a medieval Torah, the other part of which was on permanent display at the Museum. Gabrielle and their Italian curator, Eva Forcelli, were hosting daily joint lectures.
She entered the “Shrine of the Book”, the building which housed the Museum’s ancient documents and was drawn, as usual, to the display area of the “Aleppo Codex.” This manuscript, the subject of her thesis, never failed to fascinate her.
“She’s beautiful, no?” Eva stood behind her.
“Indeed. You know its history?”
“Tell me again.” Eva smiled.
“Written around 920CE, it stayed in Jerusalem until the synagogue was plundered during the Crusades. The Jews in Egypt paid an exorbitant ransom for its return. It went to Aleppo, Syria in 1375, where it stayed until 1947.” She tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice. “Then Muslim rioters, angered by the formation of the Jewish state, burned down the synagogue. It disappeared and re-emerged in 1958, but with many of its pages missing.”
“No. Many suspect they were torn out and kept privately hidden. Two ‘missing’ leaves have been discovered. Possibly more have survived.”
Eva leaned over the display case, looking closely at the ancient scriptures.
“It is open to Isaiah.” She pointed. “Your Hebrew is much better. You will read those words, Gabrielle?”
Gabrielle pressed forward and slowly read the aged script: “My servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted…his appearance disfigured beyond that of any man…so will he sprinkle many nations…For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.”
“It speaks of the Messiah’s suffering, no?”
“Yes. This prophecy has been debated for centuries, but is still not well understood.”
“Gabrielle, you have heard of Jesus?”
Gabrielle suddenly realised why she had taken an instant liking to the older woman: - Eva’s eyes held the same joyful light she saw in Savta’s. Yet, she was slightly taken aback by her directness.
“Yes, I have.” More than you’d expect.
With a gentle smile, Eva held out a Hebrew New Testament: “Tonight you read John’s Gospel, yes? Perhaps it brings understanding.”
Gabrielle re-read the verse: “Jesus said, ‘But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’”
Could it be…?
Unbidden, an image of her Grandmother filled her mind. Her peace was so authentic, so unwavering. And so very different to the depths of Gabrielle’s own fear-filled emptiness.
Hesitantly she picked up the phone and dialed the familiar number.
“Erev tov, Savta. It’s Gabby. Can we talk?”
Para. 1: 31 people were injured in the Rosh Ha’ir restaurant bombing, 19 January 2006
Para. 3: ‘Adhan’ – the Muslim call to prayer is heard 5 times daily.
Para. 4: Paleography is the study of ancient writing, including deciphering, reading and dating historical manuscripts. Source: Wikipedia
Para. 11: The Aleppo Codex and the Dead Sea Scrolls are among the famous manuscripts housed at the Shrine of the Book, Israel Museum.
Para. 15: Allepo Code history. Source: Wikipedia
Hebrew words: ‘Savta’: Grandmother; ‘Shalom’: peace; ‘Y’Shua’: Jesus; ‘Erev tov’: Good evening.
Isaiah reading: Isaiah 52: 13-15 (NIV)
John reading: John 12: 32 (NIV)
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