Millions have passed through these city walls, and everyday millions more reenact that motion in ritual, psalm, and memory, returning to a never forgotten home.
Gan Sacher, a long urban park in Jerusalem, became a surprising home for me these past two years. Sri Lankans organize cricket matches here and have sculpted life-sized elephants during the blizzards of the last two years. Jews and Arabs barbeque and kids, during the holidays, will sometimes light frighteningly large bon-fires here.
Across its fields, up the hill, and behind the public exercise equipment is a small education and conservation center. I volunteered here in the mornings usually between 6:30am – 9:30am, joining, mostly watching, two staff members wrap small bands around birds’ ankles, record a few pieces of data, and then release them back into the woods.
Through the guidance of a gentle South African, now Israeli, I saw my first chiffchaff and learned that the black-capped warbler has a brown cap when female. I watched a young woman on staff catch her first white-throated Kingfisher and her excitement as she carried it to the veterinarian on staff. I learned that the everyday birds I walked past in the city are hooded crows and laughing doves, and I regularly volunteered that information to my friends who can now name them too.
I sat at in observation station in the mornings and wondered how the songs, calls, and whistles of the birds, before the sun came up, were somehow healing me.
This small education center called the Jerusalem Bird Observatory became a holy spot in this holy city, a home for me. It is where I took my girlfriend on our first date to watch four porcupines scurry out of the bush at sunset to eat a few melon halves left out for their hungry little bellies. This is place where I met Arab and Jewish young adults with special needs working together to water the flowers and ensure the center was clean and inviting. This center taught me how to look at birds and to see them more closely; like any good home, it taught me how to know my neighbors, and to see great beauty in them.