Josh and I met in Jerusalem, just outside the Jaffa Gate. He was a tour guide before COVID-19 brought the tourist trade shuddering to a halt, but he still made some money giving tours to locals. I knew him remotely through a friend and saw a Facebook post offering a tour of the Old City, my favorite part of Jerusalem.
At 40, I had never been married and was no longer looking for love. “That ship has sailed,” I told myself. I also told myself, “I don’t mind.”
Of course I did mind, but what can you do? On my 40th birthday, I resolved to put all that behind me and to focus instead on enjoying my life. I was happy to take a day off work to learn more about my magnificent city. And there at the gate was my beshert, his broad smile beaming from underneath his signature cowboy hat.
We hit it off right away. The tour led to a drink. We reconvened for lunch the next day, which morphed into dinner as the conversation flowed. We had everything in common. A shared sense of humor, enjoyment of adventure, a deep abiding love for Jerusalem.
It’s a strange thing to see yourself in another person, shaped by events that are different only in detail, not in pattern. Our birthdays are one day apart. Perhaps that makes us almost twins. Except that Josh was an IDF tank commander in Lebanon in the early 90s for almost two years. He doesn’t tell me much about what happened there, and I don’t ask.
The ‘I love you’s came early in our relationship, tentatively at first. We were unsure how the other would react. Unsure, I think, if we were sure ourselves. Love before had always been a tempestuous thing to be shouted up at windows in the early morning hours like we were tragic heroes of a Shakespearian plot.
This love came creeping in almost unnoticed, through a shared glance, a shared laugh at some silly joke. It felt warm, solid, peaceful. There was no grand passion about it, but there was also no desperation. I didn’t want to capture him, nor he me. Instead, we let each other be.
Last night, I awoke from a deep sleep, aware that something was wrong. The atmosphere was tense, and Josh wasn’t breathing deeply like he does when he’s asleep.
“Are you okay?” I asked in the dark.
He replied with one word: “Nightmares.”
I knew what to do. I dragged my fingers lightly over his skin until he relaxed and I started to hear the deep rhythmic breathing of sleep. I lay awake for a while longer, hoping he was having better dreams.
Most of the time, Israel is forward-looking. We’re forging ahead with peace accords, racing out of the COVID-19 crisis before anywhere else, solving problems, onto the next thing.
The wars, Gaza, Lebanon, Yom Kippur, are all things we’d like to leave behind us, but the world won’t let us. When Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem from Gaza in May, I heard the explosions for the first time. “What was that?” I asked Josh.
“Rockets,” he said.
Even when things are quiet, the nightmares still remain for Josh and millions of others. They live with the echoes of those times.
I have my own nightmares from my own wars. Different details, same pattern. Now we face the echoes together.
“The Lord G-d said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”
Isn’t it funny how when you stop looking, stop striving, God steps in?
Donna Rachel Edmunds is a journalist and author, born in Portsmouth, England. She made Aliyah in 2019, joining The Jerusalem Post as a writer and editor. Her 2020 debut novel is The Book of Niv: A Modern Bible Story. Joshua Levinson is an American who spent most of his youth as a cowboy on his uncle’s ranch. Enlisting in the IDF at 22, he left and then returned to Israel eight years ago, qualifying as a tour guide. Donna and Josh live in Jerusalem.
Top photo: At the Jerusalem cultural center, First Station, 2021.