Tali’s Jerusalem Scrapbook
written by Sylvia Rouss and illustrated by Nancy Oppenheimer
In two weeks, my relatives from the United States are coming to visit my family in Jerusalem. They came last summer when my cousin Ben celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall. While they were here, we also celebrated my eighth birthday. My Aunt Sarah and Uncle David, and grandparents said they would come back to Israel this summer.
I walked over to the shelf in my bedroom where I keep the gift my aunt and uncle gave me. It’s a beautiful scrapbook. The leather cover is wrinkled and lined and reminds me of the soft creases on my grandparents’ faces. My Sabbah and Saftah, that’s what I call them, always have wonderful stories to share. They tell me about their life in New York with its busy, noisy streets. I decided that my scrapbook would tell the story of my life in the city I love. I call it my Jerusalem Scrapbook.
Ever since I was a little girl, I started collecting pictures of Jerusalem. Some are picture postcards that my mother and I purchased in the Old City, the part of Jerusalem that dates back thousands of years. I also have pictures that my father brought home from the Hebrew University where he teaches. Last year, on my birthday, my grandparents gave me a camera with a strap that I can wear around my neck. Since getting my camera, I take my own pictures. I keep everything in my scrapbook.
I turned to the first page and gazed at a postcard of this beautiful city where I was born nine years ago, shortly after my parents moved to Israel from the United States. I thought about the many people who live here—Jews, Moslems, and Christians—and who, like me, love Jerusalem with its holy sites, parks, museums, and shops. All the buildings are made of Jerusalem stone. When the sun sets, the city shimmers as if made of gold. Jerusalem means “City of Peace,” but people have fought over this city for a long time.
I flipped to the page where I had pasted the very first photograph I took with my new camera. It was a picture of everyone gathered around my birthday cake—my grandparents, my Aunt Sarah and Uncle David, my cousin, Ben, Ema, Abba, and my little brother Micah. I smiled, remembering how happy we all were to be together.
Suddenly, I heard Ema call me, “Tali, it’s time for breakfast.”
I closed my scrapbook and joined Ema and Abba at the kitchen table. My little brother, Micah was sitting in his chair. He began making faces at me.
“Sorry, Micah,” I laughed, “I already have a picture of that one in my scrapbook!”
Just then, the phone rang. Ema answered it. “Hi Sarah,” I heard her say, “We’re all looking forward to your visit. Tali can’t wait!”
Then I heard my mother ask, “What do you mean you and David and the kids aren’t coming? What about Mom and Dad?”
When my mother hung up, she said, “Sarah’s family cancelled their trip. She told me that David thinks Israel, and particularly Jerusalem, is unsafe right now.”
I couldn’t believe it, my birthday without my relatives! What fun would that be?
“What about your folks?” my father asked.
“Without Sarah’s family, they think the trip would be too difficult,” my mother replied.
“No!” I shouted. “That isn’t fair!” I began to cry. Micah looked at me sadly.
My father explained, “Tali, you know that many people are frightened by the violence that is happening here.”
I nodded. When I was born, we lived peacefully with most of our Arab neighbors. Now, there are some, who want to hurt us. They don’t want us to live here or anywhere else in Israel. They think that by hurting us, they can scare us away. They’ve attacked buses, markets, restaurants, and even the university where my father works. Many people have been injured or even killed. Sometimes, I have nightmares. I dream that my family is on the bus or eating at a restaurant and someone comes to hurt us. I also worry about my father who drives near Arab neighborhoods every day on his way to work.
“Can’t we visit them Abba?” I suggested.
My father’s face looked like a storm cloud had passed over it. “Others may be afraid to visit our home, but this is where we belong, especially now!”
My mother held me gently in her arms. “I know you’re disappointed, Tali, but you’ll still have a wonderful birthday. You can invite your friends, Dahlia and Leah, to join us.”
I shrugged. “Ema, I just want to be by myself for a while. May I go outside?”
My mother nodded as I placed my camera around my neck and headed outdoors.
I walked across the street to the park. I breathed in the crisp air and smelled the colorful, flowers all around me. I stopped to watch a butterfly that appeared to be dancing among the blossoms. Every summer, we have picnics in this park. This year my grandparents and my aunt’s family will miss its beauty. I took a photograph to show them the next time they visit us.
I found a park bench and sat down so I could wipe the tears from my eyes. When I looked up, I saw Mr. Feldman who lives in my apartment building. Even though he is old like my grandfather, Mr. Feldman is my friend.
“What’s wrong, Tali?” Mr. Feldman asked as he sat down on the bench next to me.
I tearfully told Mr. Feldman, “My aunt’s family and my grandparents decided not to come to Israel because it’s too dangerous. I wish things could be like they were before all this fighting started.”
“Yes,” agreed Mr. Feldman, reaching into his pocket for a bag of bread. He handed me a slice and together we began feeding the birds. “We once worked side by side with the Arabs.” He continued. “We traveled the same roads. We could visit the nearby Arab towns and feel safe. We helped some Arab villages build schools and medical clinics. Many Arabs became our friends. But things have changed because of those who want to hurt us.”
I nodded sadly. “I know how my relatives feel. Sometimes I get scared too.”
Mr. Feldman held out a handful of crumbs to the birds chirping all around us. I got up to take a picture as one bird actually began eating from Mr. Feldman’s hand. He spoke softly, “Unfortunately life is never perfect. It’s okay to be afraid, but we can’t give in to fear. If we do, we truly stop living. Just because we find a big rock on the pathway of life, we can’t simply stop in our tracks and wait for it to disappear. We have to figure out a way to go around that rock, or over it, so that we can enjoy all the remaining wonders along the pathway. Look at these birds. They never know from one day to the next what awaits them. Will they find food? Will another animal eat them? Even with this uncertainty, they still manage to entertain us with their singing.”
“I wish my Aunt Sarah and Uncle David could figure out a way to go around the big rock.” I said.
“If not this year, maybe next year.” Mr. Feldman replied. “Some people take a little longer to continue on the path.”
“Yes.” I nodded hopefully.
Suddenly, I heard someone shout my name. I saw my friends, Dahlia and Leah running towards us.
I smiled at Dahlia. There’s a picture of her in my scrapbook when she was Queen Esther in our school Purim play. She has black wavy hair and her skin is the color of Ema’s coffee after she adds cream to it. Dahlia’s family is from Iran but, like me, she was born in Jerusalem.
“Hi,” I said looking at Leah’s cheerful face. Her family moved to Jerusalem from Russia when she was a baby. Leah has red hair and freckles. When I take her photo, I never have to say, “Smile,” because Leah always has a grin on her face.
“When are your relatives coming?” asked Dahlia.
“They’re not coming.” I sadly told her. “They’re afraid.”
“Maybe if only Jews lived in Jerusalem, they’d come.” Leah remarked.
Mr. Feldman frowned, “I’m not sure you’re right, Leah. Let’s talk about it. But before we do, why don’t you girls run to the store and pick up some ice cream for all of us.” He handed me some money.
“Thanks, Mr. Feldman. What flavor do you want?” I asked.
“Surprise me!” he responded.
The three of us gave him a puzzled look as we ran off to the neighborhood store.
When we returned, I gave Mr. Feldman a nut covered ice cream bar. I’d selected chocolate for myself, Leah liked strawberry, and Dahlia was eating her favorite, a vanilla ice cream cone with sprinkles.
“What’s your favorite flavor?” I asked Mr. Feldman.
“I like to try something different every time I eat ice cream. It’s fun to explore. Can you imagine if there was only one kind to choose? It would be boring. Ice cream flavors are like the people who live in Jerusalem—all very different, but it’s the differences that make this an exciting place to live.”
My friends and I looked at each other. None of us looked alike. We all came from other places. We lived in a city with many people from different lands and different religions. Mr. Feldman was right. Jerusalem wouldn’t be the same if only Jews lived here. Dahlia held out her ice cream for me to taste. I gave Leah a lick of mine. I handed Mr. Feldman my camera and asked him to take a picture of us sharing our ice creams.
“I like tasting different flavors!” I exclaimed.
“Yum!” agreed Leah.
When Mr. Feldman got up to leave, I invited Dahlia and Leah to come back to my house. We waved to Mr. Feldman and walked the short distance to my home.
Micah was playing with his blocks while Ema was looking at her cookbook. “This recipe looks too difficult,” she sighed.
“But Ema,” I said, “You can’t be afraid of things that you find on the pathway of life. Just because the recipe looks difficult, you can’t let that stop you.”
“Thanks for the encouragement, Chef Tali,” she responded. “If you’re willing to eat it, I guess I can prepare this liver stew.”
I hurried to my bedroom with my friends, hoping Ema would make something else for dinner. I’ll have to tell Mr. Feldman that some rocks just aren’t worth climbing over.
“Can we see your Jerusalem Scrapbook?” asked Leah.
I took it off the shelf and showed them the pictures that Abba had brought home from the university. They were of Jerusalem a long time ago.
“Here’s a picture of the Holy Temple,” I said. “King Solomon built it over 2000 years ago. It was destroyed and today all that remains is the Kotel,” I said pointing to a postcard of Jews praying at the Western Wall. “And here’s a photo of my cousin, Ben celebrating his Bar Mitzvah at the Wall last year.”
“Since the fighting began, stones are sometimes thrown at the Jews praying by the Wall,” Dahlia said sadly.
“Yes,” agreed Leah. “My family used to walk through all parts of the Old City of Jerusalem. Now we just stay in the Jewish Quarter.”
I turned the page. “That’s a photo of my family eating at an outdoor café in the center of Jerusalem. We don’t go there as much any more. Not since a restaurant in that area was attacked.” I thought about the liver stew and wished we could go to a restaurant this evening.
I giggled when I showed my friends a picture of my grandmother and me at the Jerusalem Zoo. We both had ice cream drips on our chins as we licked our cones. “The next time my grandmother comes to visit I’m going to ask her to try a different flavor besides the vanilla she always eats,” I told them.
“Here’s a picture of Ema and me taking Micah on a bus ride. I enjoyed chatting with the other passengers as they fussed over my little brother. Now when I board a bus, I look at the other passengers and wonder if one of them wants to hurt me,” I sighed.
“I feel the same way!” Leah exclaimed.
“I try to walk as much as possible,” added Dahlia.
I turned the page to a postcard of the beautiful stained glass windows at Hadassah Hospital. Suddenly I thought about the ambulance sirens I sometimes hear. I told my friends, “When I hear the sound of sirens, my heart beats so fast that I can’t catch my breath. I’m scared there’s been another attack and I pray that the ambulance is on its way to help someone sick instead. I know that isn’t nice, but I can’t help myself.”
Leah wiped a tear from my eye while Dahlia hugged me. I thought, I’m lucky to have such good friends.
Finally, I came to the newspaper clippings folded between the pages of my scrapbook. “I’m not sure why I keep these,” I confided. “Each time a ‘bad thing’ happens in Jerusalem, I cut out the story. I haven’t told Ema and Abba about them yet. I think it would upset them, but I believe these stories are important. I love Jerusalem and I would never want to live anywhere else, even with all the scary things happening here. I guess I keep the clippings because, in spite of the bad things, we still have many happy times. Someday, I’ll show this scrapbook to my American relatives. Maybe then they’ll understand that when you truly love something, you love it in good times and in bad.”
As I gently closed my scrapbook, I heard Ema calling, “Tali, Abba’s home from work.”
Dahlia and Leah came with me to greet my father.
“Want some Bombas, girls?” Abba asked as he searched the kitchen cabinet for his favorite snack food.
“Micah finished the last of the Bombas today.” Ema told my disappointed father.
“Abba,” I suggested, “I can make popcorn. I know you like Bombas, but it’s boring if you eat only one kind of snack food when you have so many choices—like nuts, or potato chips, or pretzels, or…
“Okay, Tali, you’ve convinced me,” Abba replied. “Go make popcorn.”
Leah and Dahlia helped pop the corn. Afterward, I took a picture of all of us gathered around the table eating handfuls of popcorn. “This is delicious!” Abba announced.
After my friends left, Ema and I set the table for dinner. I told her “I’m not hungry. I think I ate too much popcorn.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” replied Ema. “Here, Tali, just try a little,” she insisted dipping a spoon into the pot on the stove.
I closed my eyes and scrunched my face as Ema gave me a spoonful of liver stew. It tasted strangely like spaghetti with fresh vegetable sauce. “This tastes good!” I exclaimed.
“I chose this recipe instead of the liver stew,” she stated. “It was even more difficult to prepare.” She filled a plate for me and set it on the table.
A week later, my birthday arrived. My parents surprised me by inviting Mr. Feldman to my party. Dahlia and Leah came with their parents.
Mr. Feldman suggested that we all talk about what we like best about our life in Jerusalem. Leah’s father mentioned the Kotel, while Dahlia’s mother said the synagogue. Abba said he enjoyed the museums with their wonderful exhibits, and Ema talked about the sidewalk cafes. Leah and Dahlia agreed that they liked the beautiful parks.
At last, it was my turn. I told everyone, “I love all the different people of Jerusalem.” Mr. Feldman beamed at me when I said, “We’re like the birds in the park. We never stop singing even though we don’t know what might happen tomorrow or next week.”
Abba took a picture of me blowing out the candles on my birthday cake. I closed my eyes and made a wish. For a special treat, Mr. Feldman had brought different kinds of ice cream. I smiled at Mr. Feldman as I handed each person a few spoons.
I reminded them that Jerusalem is made up of many people, all different, but special in their own way. I asked everyone to sample the ice cream flavors to see how truly delicious they all are. When I looked into the smiling faces of my family and friends, I thought about this city that had drawn people from different parts of the world together to make Jerusalem, the home we all love.
As I picked up my camera to take a picture of everyone, I wondered about what my relatives. I felt sad that my grandparents and my aunt’s family had missed this happy occasion. Softly, I repeated my birthday wish, “I hope next year you’ll be in my Jerusalem Scrapbook.”
The story of how I wrote Tali’s Jerusalem Scrapbook began with a family visit to our son in Israel in the winter of 2000. He was a college exchange student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and this was just months after the start of the Second Intifada, a time of terrorism and violence. I wrote two books because of that experience. Started on the back of napkins in Jerusalem cafes, I composed a story of tolerance for the children in my preschool class. Thus, the termites on Noah’s Ark became The Littlest Pair, which won the 2002 National Jewish Book award. For slightly older children, I re-imagined my own children living in Israel and dealing with the stress and horror of those difficult years. I decided that a diary or a journal might become the confidant of a child, and wrote Tali’s Jerusalem Scrapbook. Published in 2003 and the recipient of the Sydney Taylor Notable Books for Younger Children, one reviewer wrote, “While dealing with the subject of terrorism, the author is careful not to divide the population into “good Jews and bad Arabs”, but rather presents a diversity of people, all of whom share Jerusalem and make it the special city it is. The book teaches a lesson in tolerance of different races and cultures, and at the same time, addresses children’s justifiable fears of being hurt in a terrorist attack.” No longer in print, I am pleased to share Tali’s Jerusalem Scrapbook with parents and their children, and with teachers and their students. The Second Intifada, which started in 2000 and lasted until 2005, was a time of horrific suicide bombings by Palestinians terrorists against Israeli citizens and Israeli military retaliation against both Palestinian terrorists and protesters. Over a thousand Israelis and over 3000 Palestinians were killed. Sadly, little has changed for the Palestinians in the fifteen years since that terrible time, and the threat of a third Intifada remains. For a discussion guide on this book, click here.