And those girls sitting on the outside wall. They sniggered when I stumbled, walking past.
He, mark you, wore a large, black velvet skull cap while they, modestly apart, were in long skirts, heavy cotton blouses, flat shoes. They must have roasted under the burning sun.
Then Mr Odd Ball stopped me short.
“I’m sorry, Madam. You can't come through here. Your husband, yes. Maybe you’ll feel more comfortable using the left-hand entrance, the one reserved for ladies.”
“Me? I’m no lady!”, I snorted, pushing past. “I’ve come just because I've heard of the spiritual enlightenment thousands gain visiting the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, here at Meron, in Israel’s Galilee.
“By the way,” I added, “I’ve been told the rabbi was responsible for cleaning up ancient Tiberius. Cripes, I wish he were here now, parts of the modern town are flamin’ filthy!”
“Madam,” continued Mr Oddity, with measured calm. “Rabbi bar Yochai, known colloquially as ‘Harashbi’, did not use a mop and bucket. His cleansing technique was of a higher order.
“Which reminds me. I guess, listening to your struggle with Hebrew, that you may need a guide to accompany you around the site. I’ll attend to your husband, if you’d care to allow my wife to show you around the women’s section.
“We do this as a mitzvah – holy duty – and the cost is a mere one hundred and fifty shekels per person. My family will use the proceeds to fund our oldest son’s barmitzvah next year.
“I wonder, he added, “did you light a memorial candle on Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement? It’s also a great mitzvah, along with lighting candles on the anniversary of the death of a close relative. We can give you the candles and help you to say the prayers here. It’s a service we offer for only eighty shekels each.”
“That’s fine,” I said, starting to back away. “But if you don’t mind, I think I’ll leave it. The crowds and the heat are making me feel faint. I’m sure those kind little girls sitting outside will give – er – sell me some water.
“But before I go, let me tell you something. I keep a regular supply of memorial lights at home. I use one on Yom Kippur, of course. I also light them on the due dates for my parents. Then there are two we need for my husband’s parents.
“More are required for Yom Hashoa – Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day and Yom Hazikaron – its day for fallen I.D.F. soldiers. Then there’s the one I use in January for International Holocaust Day. Let’s not forget the millions of gentiles who perished in the flames.
“Finally, in the harsh, early days of spring, I light one to recall my dear, late friend Judy. She had been a Reform convert to Judaism who decided, after a terrible ten year battle with leukaemia, that she preferred to be cremated instead of buried.
“But I don’t suppose you’d want me to waste a ‘kosher’ light on her,” I said. “She was only a woman. And, I bet you’re going to tell me she wasn’t a ‘real’ Jew.”
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 01 October 2012)