by KJ Hannah Greenberg
I passed the ketchup to the ginger-haired fellow sitting next to me at the table. I didnt recognize him from our tour group. Perhaps, he was a spillover from the group sitting near ours. Regardless, he thanked me politely before finishing his eggs.
Later, when our guide called us, he remained at our table. I wondered why he didnt sit with his peers.
I next saw him the following day, at Shacharit, morning prayers. In our hotels beit knesset, he swayed and implored as well as did the man who was leading us in our petitions. Except for the aged look of his tallit, there was nothing remarkable about Emmet. I supposed that he had inherited his prayer shawl from his grandfather or from another deceased relative.
A few days later, I saw him in the lounge talking to some of the widows in our group. That man had an uncanny sense for which women were single. Certainly, none of those gals wore signs advertising their availability, and, certainly, outside of our bus, no one knew about their status.
One night, as I was sipping cola in the hotel lobby and thinking, nearly aloud, about the magnificent people I had met in Ashdod and about the plight of their children given that town being constantly bombarded by enemy fire, I again noticed Emmet.
He was nursing a drink, which looked like a glass of water with ice. I moved over to his set of seats. We made small talk. I grew tired but realized that I hadnt yet davened Maariv. I invited him to join me and found a minyan via my smartphone - our hotel only provided access to its beit knesset in the morning.
Later, rather than return to the hotel with me, Emmet walked toward the old city. I tried to call him, but, because he was so far away, he couldnt hear me. He continued to not return to the hotel with me, after davening Maariv, for the next two nights.
Too soon, it was my last night in Israel. Again, I slugged back cola while Emmet drank iced water. Again, we talked about the tourist sites that I had seen during the day. Again, we prayed the evening prayers together at a minyan outside of our hotel. Again, he walked toward the old city rather than return with me.
I figured that I could catch up on sleep on the plane since it would be a long flight back. So, instead of retiring, I followed Emmet. I smiled at each soldier I passed. I looked away from each ethnic cousin I passed, hoping that my lack of eye contact would keep them from making me the next mornings headline.
Emmet walked through Jaffee Gate and past the Christian Information Center. He zig-zagged through the Armenian Quarter.
I exhaled. This was not the path that our guide had shown us when we had visited the Kotel.
Eventually, Emmet surfaced in the Jewish Quarter. Soon, he sat down on a bench in Ha-Khurba Square. Looking in all directions, he sighed. His shoulders slumped. He drew a package, which was revealed to be a bedroll, from beneath the bench. The package had been covered by debris; no one had disturbed it.
Taking the bedroll with him, but leaving the debris behind, Emmet walked, with decreasing purpose, toward Yeshivat HaKotel. In an alley near that building, where he was protected by the comings and goings of bucharim, he laid out his bed and went to sleep.
The next morning, Emmet was once eating breakfast at the hotel. Just before my tour group was called to board a bus to the airport, I heard him ask another tourist to pass the ketchup.
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