Featured in The Smart Set – February 2019
In this piece, I write about when heartbreak, violence, and a new beginning collide in one of the world’s holiest cities.
My favorite activity in Sunday School was when our teacher would hand out construction paper and crayons and ask us to illustrate scenes from the Bible. My little sister and I spent hours trading paper colors and trying our hands at depicting famous moments: Moses and the burning bush, Noah and his animals, Mary Magdalene in an empty tomb, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Moses always had a big nose, hairy eyebrows, and a thorny wreath around his head — I still do not know where we got this idea — and Adam and Eve looked a lot like our Ken and Barbie dolls, with shapely bodies that in no way resembled actual human bodies. Every time we colored scenes like these from the Bible, my sister and I bonded over that construction paper, inventing and imagining our own ways into the stories we heard every Sunday while our mom sang in the choir and our dad sat in the audience down the hall in the sanctuary. And after every Sunday school, we proudly pinned our masterpieces to the refrigerator, where they’d sit, lopsided under the magnet, until the next week, when we could pin up a new one.
This was how I learned the stories of the Bible. It was also how I came to understand the land of Israel. For most of my life, this tiny sliver in the Middle East has always been a menagerie of scenes rendered with crayon onto brightly colored construction paper. I preferred this world of crayon and paper, where I could take an ancient story and make it my own, one that usually featured female characters with big blue eyes, straight-up eyelashes, and bow-shaped lips. I was pretty shy, the girl always buried in her coloring books, and I loved being the creator of my characters’ destinies. Sometimes, after Sunday school let out, I’d imagine a different reality for the women, Eve on a horse, riding out of Eden, her hair flowing in the wind; Mary Magdalene as a mermaid princess reigning over the Dead Sea. In this world of ideas, I could make the women independent, adventurous; I could do whatever I wanted with them.
I decided, early on, that I would be a writer when I grew up. But not a fiction writer, not like the artist I was when no one was looking. I decided I would be a real-life writer, one whose writing subsisted on having adventures that went further than her backyard. That kind of writer, I imagined, would let me become like the women I wanted my biblical women to be: strong, perpetually interesting, unafraid. To practice my writing skills, I started keeping a journal when I was five years old, documenting the goings-on of the suburban neighborhood in which we lived. To this day, when I’m traveling, I only take a notebook and a pen, never a laptop, to record my experiences. I’ve got a whole shelf of battered journals on a bookshelf in my living room.
Read the full story in The Smart Set.