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What Happened for Chana

Each of the four holy cities of Israel represents one of the four elements, and Safat is air. I’m a Gemini. Maybe that’s why I felt so peaceful there.

A walking tour with my guide, Shlomo, my first morning in town, made the history of Safat come alive. He sent chills up my spine with legends about the ancient synagogues, rabbis, and battles as he pointed out the bullet shells still embedded in the old city walls. I tried to hide the tears that welled up in my eyes from the overflow of emotion.

During the first four months of my six-month-long trip around the world, I visited Japan, China, Thailand, Bali, Singapore, and Egypt. Along the way, I learned some of the history of each of the cultures, but no history had come so alive as the one I heard from Shlomo that morning in Safat. I realized in my traveled-out stupor that what I was learning now was personal the story of my own people. My energy felt renewed.

Because Safat is an artist’s colony, I was drawn there to visit fellow painters. After Shlomo’s tour, I wandered through the galleries of this hill town built of stone. It was there that I met Chana. She radiated a peace and confidence that I admired. She was sitting in the doorway of the Hassidic (Orthodox) Art Gallery, and when I said hello, she answered in English. We began to chat and soon discovered we were both Americans. She invited me to sit next to her and her story began to unfold.

Chana, who was thirty-seven-years old, ran the gallery with her artist husband. In the tradition of married Orthodox Jewish women, she wore a wig to cover her hair in public. I saw a shiny new wedding band on her finger. Chana, as she now called herself, had grown up in a Christian family in Cleveland, Ohio. She confided she had always been drawn to Jewish friends, but didn’t realize until five years ago that she herself longed to be a Jew. She told me, “I was born with a Jewish soul but had to be raised in a non-Jewish family so I could make this journey of discovery.” In Cleveland, she began to study and convert but couldn’t meet an Orthodox mate there with whom to share a religious life.

So two years before I met her, Chana had decided to move to Jerusalem. With the help of the community there, she studied and worked. The matchmakers sent her to meet prospective spouses in different towns all over Israel. Eventually she was sent to Safat. When she met Yacov, her husband of four months, she knew at once he was the one.

At dusk a few evenings later, the town square was lit up like a stage set. A large circle of us were dancing to Israeli folk music. Afterwards, I ran into Chana and met her husband, a bearded man wearing a traditional black coat and hat. They said they were hoping to be blessed with a child soon. Later, over tea at Chana’s home, I told her that I longed to re-marry and was eager to find a life partner. I wondered how she’d had such fast results in finding a husband and a new life in Safat.

She said, “I knew exactly what I wanted and prayed to God for it.” She added, “Here in Israel, especially in the holy city of Safat, one is closer to God than anywhere else on earth.”

I believed her. Then she added that the most direct pipelines to God are from the Wall in Jerusalem and from the old cemetery on the hillside of Safat where the most famous rabbis and scholars are buried.

“How morbid,” I said.

“I know,” she said. Chana then told me that when she was sent to Safat by the matchmakers, they told her she must go to the cemetery and pray. She had already met two men in Safat, but she wasn’t interested in either of them. So under pressure from friends, she forced herself to go to the cemetery. She felt self-conscious--everyone knows what a single woman is doing in the cemetery.

Her prayer was apologetic. “I made sure to tell God that I wasn’t so desperate to find a mate that I had to come to a cemetery to pray for a husband. I had only come to please my friends. I assured God that I knew He had already heard my prayers. It was all right to answer them in His own time. I could be patient.”

Then Chana told me that two hours after this prayer, she was introduced to her future husband, Yacov!

I didn’t sleep well that night. I woke up at seven, before the heat of the summer day set in, and followed my map down the hill on the rocky winding path to the old cemetery. My whole body was trembling. Near a secluded grave site I hid behind a tree and made my speech to God: “This is Jan here. Chana sent me. You answered her prayer so quickly. I want to pray for a husband too. But there’s one difference between Chana and me. I…………………………am desperate!

That was many, many years ago. The question is, of course, Did it work? The answer is, No. Thank God. I’m happily single.

Jan Bayer also tells the tales of her travels through her vivid oil paintings. Grateful to have inherited both the travel gene and artist gene, much of her creative inspiration has come from living, studying, and traveling around the planet. During her twenty-five years as a professional artist, Bayer has sold her work through galleries on the East and West coasts. Now living in southern California, she can be found painting on the cliffs above the sea or indulging in another passion eating burritos. View Bayer's paintings at her website: www.sdvag.net/B/JanBslide.htm or email: beingjb@gmail.com (when writing, please put “Chana” in subject line)

Reprinted from "Female Nomad and Friends" by Rita Golden Gelman. Copyright © 2010. Published by Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishers, a division of Random House, Inc.


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