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Tourists

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

During today’s walk through the Mission District, I was reminded of a Yehuda Amichai poem.

Tourists
Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Western Wall
And they laugh behind heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb
And on Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust after our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms.

Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists
was standing around their guide and I became their target marker.
“You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch
from the Roman period. Just right of his head.”
“But he’s moving, he’s moving!”
I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
“You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it,
left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

Except in this case, the story really is the building. Built in 1908, this Historic Landmark was once the home of B’nai David Temple. Today, it has been divided into individual apartments with much of the original architecture intact. Including a mikvah that is currently used as a storage closet.

There has been a Jewish presence in San Francisco dating back to Gold Rush days. Though it remains a vibrant community, it is remarkable to imagine people living in what used to be sacred prayer space. Don’t they find it odd to have part of a balcony in their living rooms?

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, 10 March 2010 1:52 pm

    i really, really love that poem and i really, really love sf! glad you have some time to be a tourist — but only the very most authentic kind, of course!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Wednesday, 10 March 2010 2:55 pm

      Me too! I fell in love with Amichai because of that poem. As a nearly life-time resident of SoCal, this part of the state eludes me just a bit. I cannot believe that it is the same state! It is simultaneously cosmopolitan and laid-back. I really like it here 🙂

  2. Darkroom Diva permalink
    Wednesday, 10 March 2010 4:41 pm

    I LOVE Amachai! Thanks for posting this poem. I’m fairly new to your blog, and I enjoy it a great deal. Yasher koach!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 11 March 2010 8:16 pm

      I’m so glad that you’re here!!!

      Amichai is amazing and this is one of my all-time favourite poems. Thanks so much.

  3. Darkroom Diva permalink
    Wednesday, 10 March 2010 4:42 pm

    Oops! I misspelled his name (how embarrassing). I meant Amichai!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 11 March 2010 8:16 pm

      Don’t be embarrassed. Sometimes our fingers have minds of their own 🙂

  4. Thursday, 11 March 2010 12:27 am

    Gripping poem. Reading it gives me insight into another paradigm.

    As a woman of LDS faith, we have sacred spaces (our holy temples). It would be completely bizarre to me if one was ever converted into a common living space. Nearly unthinkable.

    Very interesting post. I always learn when I stop by. Thank you for that.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Thursday, 11 March 2010 8:21 pm

      Same with us. The idea that the building was sold and is being used for something other than prayer is hard to stomach. One might make the case that the home has replaced the Holy Temple and that our homes should be holy space.

      But it would be somewhat of a stretch.

      I’m glad that you find something new whenever you visit 🙂

  5. Jen permalink
    Friday, 19 March 2010 1:43 am

    Wow! That poem is amazing. It is disturbing, however, that a place for prayer could or would be turned into people`s homes… that is so not right at all.

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