The Singing Stones of Jerusalem

From "A Brightly Colored Arc" Copyright 2005 Sharon Ruth Skolnick

It always happened this way, thought Marigold, passing the tahini sauce. Why did it always boil down to this? Maybe the survival gene. Her mind meandered.

The table was a festive array of dishes piled with an odd melange of middle eastern and Euro-ghetto delights: Steaming bowls of chicken soup crowded next to plates of falafel balls drenched in tahini sauce, with smears of chickpea hummus slathered on fat rounds of pita bread next to each bowl. How they all melded, she couldn't imagine. And what they did to the stomachs of the family and friends squeezed around the table, she didn't want to imagine.

But somehow it all worked together. her relatives were there, the Israeli ones. Her matriarch Aunt Bett, sister of her late mother, Mira, still going strong at 94, the first cousin and his wife and their two kids, adults now, the ages her nonexistent children might have been, had she followed the well-trodden path, and their boyfriend and girlfriend, respectively. One of the kids wasn't Jewish; he was a Palestinian Arab, actually. The initial discomfort at the table had blurred into an appreciation of the foods as they appeared, and the Arab boy's colorful descriptions of the harvesting of chickpeas near Jerusalem sent surprising ripples of laughter through the gathering, which grew more mellow with sips of Mt. Carmel wine.

The most unusual aspect of this meal was Marigold's dinner guest and partner in crime. For next to her sat Daniel Defiance, also known as the legendary Firesmith. He spoke of parched corn soup and buffalo stew, and the deer meat his Ojibwa relatives could hunt for their tables without a permit in the US, which was really, as he liked to point out too often, American Indian land.

Everything was tranquil and cheery tonight, like the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock: not as it really happened but as the school kids imagined it when they stuck construction paper feathers on their heads in American schools.

Everything was peaceful now, with a depth of peace unknown here in Tel Aviv since- when? Everything felt normal, even, hopeful, dreamed Marigold, passing the bowl of tahini salad to the judge on her right, Ari Pinchuk, her mother's own true love. Yes, they had invited him to this table too, the man of Mira Dubovna's dreams, the Polish Gymnasium sweetheart she wished she had married instead of Maurice, Marigold's dad. Mira was gone now, though her older sister, the nonagenarian, headed this table. But Ari was here, My spiritual father, thought Marigold, So was Danny, her mentor and teacher, who was known to say, "Wherever I am, that's the head of the table!" Marigold felt a quiet glow of peace, the strands of her life finally weaving together.

She forgot for a moment the layer-on-layer of news reporters and camera people hovering outside Aunt Bett's   apartment building here in Ra'anana.

Slowly, between delicious courses and jokes and teasing, the itinerary of yesterday, December 31, 1999, came into clear focus. It was a day when an event of Biblical magnitude shook the streets of Jerusalem.

A month before, in Israel on a visit to see her old Aunt Bett again, Marigold found herself in the middle of a rock-slinging riot between the extremist Chabad-niks with their swirling sideburns and enraged be-sweatered Palestinian youths flinging David-size rocks against their Goliath-perceived assailants. Strange that they never used slingshots, flashed Marigold, dodging the rain of rocks.

Something has to change, something has to change NOW.

It became a song, a mantra, swirling in her head as she walked out of the maelstrom and smelled the gunpowder from the IDF brigade shooting rubber bullets, that were no joke, into the crowd.

Marigold   turned and walked toward the old city gate and the Western wall. she wanted to pray, to ask why such ugliness and danger marred this sacred space. this power spot. She put her and out to a stone wall to steady herself The rock vibrated under her hand. It did! She could feel it! The walls were alive; they were singing! She remembered the tiny box where her mother's wedding rings lay, so worn down and away by all the work of her hands. The box said "Singing River" on it. As she walked closer and closer to the women's side of the western wall, lost in thought, Marigold felt a pulling at her face, at her heart - suddenly huge sobbing gasps escaped from her and she was suffused in tears. So this is why they call it the Wailing Wall, she thought. Tenderly, she touched the smooth-edged, craggy stone block in front of her. Then she yanked a scrap of paper and a pen from her purse and scribbled, "Dear G-d, thank you for my life! Tell me how I can help to bring peace to this place."

She shoved the note between two boulders, in a crack, near many other notes. She wondered if gnomes came by at night to pull the notes out of there periodically, and if little kids were told that an angel did it, like they were told the angel Elijah came to drink the special Passover from the goblet set aside for him each spring.

Two names spilled into her mind as she made her way back to the relative safety of Ra'anana and Aunt Beck's apartment - Charlie and Daniel. Charlie and Daniel: Why those names, those men? And why now?

OK, Charlie had money. He was uptight and a renegade Catholic with all of the retrograde hangups. He'd told her after years of their going together as an almost-couple. that he was embarrassed by her noisy ways and didn't trust what she would say, and that's why she'd never gotten to meet his family or friends. All that time and she'd just chalked it up to his peculiar nature. She had been hurt, offended, She thought maybe he was a closet anti-Semite, because it was her intense emotional outspoken (a.k.a. Jewish) nature that he couldn't seem to handle.

But he had a good heart, she mused, he had even been a healer to her at times - and he did want to make difference in the world, to make his life count for something, as he said. And the kind of desperate, tearing-away sex they'd had sometimes reached eleven on a scale of ten. He wanted to make a difference.... He had money....

Marigold was looking for a sign. She waited for G-d to appear, to vibrate, like she had felt in the singing rocks. She had asked the most powerful of questions, and it was not about her and her own problems and agonies and regrets, it was not forr her exoneration. It was for the world, for this city of Jerusalem that still stood, but could be reduced to rubble if the inflamed rage on each side reached kindling temperature. If somebody's finger got too itchy to push the red bomb buttons - Marigold turned Charlie around in her mind. He had money. But so what? How could that help this? He wanted to make a difference.

So did she - so much so that it was a shining, blinding flame in the middle of her head. She found a banch near a contemporary sculpure commemorating Holocaust victims. A flat metal arm and hand reached to the sky out of a huddle of defeated, slumped forms. To the sky. The hand looked like it wanted to be holding something: a baby? A goblet? A sacred pipe?

A pipe! The sacred pipe, holy instrument of communication between man and the spirit world in the American Indians' vision, the Great Mystery: G-d. The pipe; she had learned it connected the material world with the universe and the Unseen. When you prayed with the pipe, your prayers went straight to heaven - and they were answered!

That was what Danny Defiance said, the one called Firesmith, in the dark sweatlodge with the burning rocks.

Dan Firesmith. His name danced around her head.

What was that he had said, that there never would be peace until there was reconcialtion with the oppressors. He was talking about the Indians and the American white people, of course, descendants of the genocidal greedmongers, or brave pioneers, depending on who was talking, who had raced across the Turtle Island continent, to its western edge and left so little for the people of the land, the Indians - hardly even left them there at all.

Reconciliation with the oppressors. If it could work over there in the good old U.S. of A., - then why not here, in the middle east tinderbox?

Marigold wondered about the possibility of some kind of Spiritual Summit. Could she get on a radio show ans invite the chief rabbi and the head imam to duke it out verbally, to talk at the same table? She'd tried that once in Marin County, California, on a cable TV show, where a new age rabbi sat across from a video store Palestinean and traded his version of the facts. Who was in Palestine/Israel first, who had more rights to be there? It hadn't seemed to make a dent in the world, that show, except that the Palestinean said afterward that the rabbi was a gentleman, and had given him a new and better feeling about Jews.

Daniel Firesmith's daring and Charlie's money... reconciliation with the oppressor... it all swirled around her head as Marigold sank into a hot bath and then put herself to bed in Aunt Beck's guestroom. Date palm trees and hibiscus bushes rocked in a warm breeze outside her window. Sweet, sad Israeli music piped into her ears from across the way.

Marigold awoke as the strong crimson-gold Israeli sun broke into view and raucous brown and black birds that looked like Egyptian paintings of doves screamed and argued in their version of Hebrew. She had a rare-for-her urge to go outside and pray, and she followed it. Facing toward each of the four directions, she sent her own song out into the ancient air where centuries of visions had been seen, where there was some kind of pipeline to the Divine, some direct conduit.

Birds - they all flew over this bottleneck of land beside the vast Mediterranean Sea. When Marigold had studied a map of bird migrations, she noticed that it was Israel over which the birds on this side of the world converged and diverged, from Europe and Asia to Africa and back, following the seasons and their own directives and inner programming. This place, this land, was surely a power spot and a pipeline....

A pipe! The Sacred Pipe! There it was again, in the center of her thoughts, like the tobacco pipe floating in the middle of a Magritte painting while painted under it in French were the words "This is not a pipe." If not a pipe, then what? she thought. Oil paint dried on canvas. A thought turned into painted words. A joke. Oil paint on canvas. Minerals. Rock! Her mind danced and spun. The singing rocks! A powerspot! The Sacred Pipe!!!

As soon as the time was right, about 6PM in Israel, where it would be about 10AM in California, Marigold made some calls. She called Charlie and breathlessly told him her idea. It would take about $5000.00 to pull it off, she said, with the plane tickets and the cargo charges and -

Of course, he said he thought she was crazy. "What do do you mean, a sweatlodge? There? And anyway, how do you know this Firesmith will go along with it? I know I've been a Catholic, and the Pope cares about peace in the middle east. He's planning to go there himself on a mission before he dies, did you know that? Why not wait for that? Who do you think you are, anyway" And so on.

"I don't know. And I don't want to wait. This is now and I'm here. And I haven't asked Danny yet. I have no idea what he'd say. I didnd't want to say anything to him until I knew we had the finances in place. Can you do it, Charlie? For me? Or will it embarrass you?

She'd done it now. Why had she gone and said that?

But Charlie saw the light, somehow. She told him to think of it as a loan. "Sure," he said, "A loan. I'll think of it as a novena." What was that, wondered Marigold. But, never mind, she thought, the Christians had to have a hand in this thing also, she supposed. They were a part of the scene here in the Middle   east, one of the contending factions. And everywhere, really. A part of the history that had lead to now.

"Everyone wants a piece of this place, Danny. And I had this vision, and you were in it. What do you think. Can you help us?" Marigold didn't even know who she was referring to when she said "us." She only know that all of the passion in her body and soul, all of the love and heart she had misdirected at shallow, sullen men or mean bosses or pets that loved and then died was there, right then,   in her voice.

Danny thought, and thought some more, A minute of very expensive silence stretched halfway around the globe.

"All right." He finally said. "We can do this. I think so. Except, who's going to pay for hauling all those rocks?" He chuckled. The whole thing struck him as funny!

"I have that covered. I have this rich ex-Catholic ex-boyfriend who says he'll wire us and you guys the money as soon you give the green light."

"That's a lot of exes, Shearer," growled Firesmith.

"But, Danny..."


"Can you bring the original Pipe?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, the one held by the Lookinghorse family, the one the White Buffalo Calf Woman bequeathed to your Indian people five hundred years ago?"

"No! That Pipe stays on this land, on Turtle Island. But, you should remember this, Shearer, any Pipe-carrier has the authority to conduct a sweatlodge ceremony, and every Pipe holder is a spiritual conduit. It's the same power. It's all the same thing...."

Yes, she did remember that, and that was why she wanted it here, and him here too. To shake these people awake to what they had, where they were sitting. The stones here - they were singing!

"OK, when and where. You work out the details, and we'll be there."

One week later, a cargo plane flown by a friend of Charlie, a Jewish guy with Palestinian sympathies who had trained pilots on both sides of this long-simmering conflict, landed at Ben Gurion ariport in Tel Aviv. Ten mysterious packages were gently taken out of the cargo hold, while four Native Americans descended from the plane.

Daniel Firesmith was there, half his hair braided and the other half streaming down free. You look like Redshirt, exclaimed Marigold, hugging him, remembering the handsome Sioux from the 19th century on the poster, the one she had thought of as her personal spirit guide. Also along were the singer Quiltman, artist and storyteller Lorenzo Caba and Felix Moss, Marigold's Coast Miwok buddy from Marin,   California.

Four American Indian tribes were represented. Daniel held the baby-like bundle of a Sacred Pipe in his arms, and carried a travel bag over one shoulder.

"Welcome, Shalom," cried Marigold, happiness welling up inside her, "And thank you. Todah rabah!!"

That night they stayed up late, talking about the logistics and the obstacles, and the craziness of the plan.

It would be a wild ride, thought Marigold, munching on a falafel drenched in   tahini sauce as excited conversations bloomed all around her. What a trip!

They set up a portable sauna in the back of a truck, and a generator. They heated the volcanic rocks brought over from DQ University, near Davis, California, where there had been prayer ceremonies for decades. The truck was parked near the Western Wall and the Temple Mount. IDF guards were curious, but they had been alerted by the Israeli Parliament, Knesset, member that Aunt Bett used to date in pre WWII Poland, that the Americans were filming a movie there that day. When they saw the sauna rigged up inside the truck, they just laughed. "Crazy Americans," they muttered, "Some kind of religious movie." They went back to their posts to watch for "Armegeddon-ites."

In another truck, the willow dome was built and and tied with sinew, the piles of blankets to cover it readied. That afternoon, the dome was put on a mound of Israeli soil, on the Temple Mount plaza. A crew of filmmakers came along, also hired by Charlie, to document this event and act as decoys, so people wouldn't realize that this was anything other than a movie set.

Crowds of the curious gathered around the barricades, jostling one another, Jews and Arabs each trying to explain to friends, and tourists what was happening.

Then the hot rocks were brought in, and wrapped in towels, out of the truck appeared Daniel Firesmith, Quiltman, Felix, Marigold, Ramona Eshol from the Israeli Knesset, and Abu Tor, respected Palestinean poet.

This was the best they could do at the last minute, recalled Marigold: Ideally the heads of state and the head religious figures would have been there, but there was not time in all the rush of secretive planning to notify them, educate them or invite them in.

But it was OK. This wasn't a symbolic ceremony that depended on earthly hierarchy.   It was the real thing: a prayer to the Great Mystery, the Creator on high.

A sense of tranquility filled the entire square as smoke seeped from the hot rocks. They had been careful to pile dirt up underneath the dome structure, so there was no fire hazard. In the sweat lodge, songs and prayers began. There in the middle of the middle east in the center of the ancient Biblical core of three religions, in the power spot of power spots, the Sacred Pipe of the Indians was connected and the universe of matter and spirit were joined - and prayers for peace were uttered with heart and tears and song and sweat.

Outside the lodge, a low murmur began, and ascended to a raucus mass of sound. The people were angry. What were these Americans doing on the holy place, the Temple Mount?

A vibration shook the square. Somebody yelled that the rocks in the walls were tingling: She could feel it. Masses of people ran to any walll built of Jerusalem stone and felt the rocks, and the words coalesced into the sky, "Yes!" cried the Israelis. "Yes!" yelled the Palestinians. "Yes, oh, yes!!" The rocks are tingling!! What is this??

And then the night came on, and it was the millennium: New Years night of the year 2000 according to the Gregorian calendar. All of these dates and times were man-made. But the smoke from the consecrated tobacco ascended in the sweat lodge, and the songs and tears and cris for peace continued - and they were real. An Israeli broke out a bottle of Kosher wine. A Moslem Arab brought out a piple of hashish, The mood of the gathered onlookers relaxed. And then - it rained. Out of a clear star-lit sky, a small cloud had crept unnoticed to a place directly above the sweat lodge. Suddenly a downpour drenched the square. And people - Jews, Moslems, Christians, non-believers, tourists, started to fall on their knees. It was silent then, except for the splashing of the rain and the song swelling out of the blanket-covered willow dome in the middle of the plaza of the Jerusalem's holy Temple Mount.

At dawn, the people emerged from the sweat lodge. Cameras rolled. Everyone in the surrounding crowd wanted to be intervewed, to voice their reactions and questions and thoughts. Love was palpable in the air. Daniel Firesmith picked up a bullhorn and spoke, his stong voice gentle and sweet.

"What you have here is not a new religion. It is an ancient religion born of Mother Earth.

"Just as your religions have originated from human hearts and out of this holy ground. We come in peace, and we bring peace, but it wasn't made up by us. Don't kill the messenger, and don't hate the messenger, and don't worship the messenger. All your prophets have told you this. Thanks and no-thanks to your missionaries, I am familiar with the spirituality that comes from this, your own Sacred Land.

"You have a power spot here. Feel the rocks in your walls if you still doubt it. Respect this place. Grow up, and stop fighting among yourselves for a piece of the magic pie. It's a circle, and we're all in it and around it. There's room for everyone. Happy new year. Happy new millenium. Stop rehashing the past. The time is now. Now is the time! Let's start fresh. A new chapter.

"Start fresh! For All My Relations."

He put down the bullhorn and slowly walked away, getting into an idling movie truck and driving off. The other Native Americans present helped dismantle the lodge, load up the rocks and completely clear out the site.

There were tears that morning, and hugs between Jews and Arabs. People whispered about the miracle of the rain.

Marigold's heart was overflowing. She thought the major miracle the hugs, as black-clad Lubavichers embraced kafiya-wearing Palestinians, with the women from both camps grinning from ear to ear. And then the food that started to appear was magnificent, turning the square into a giant elaborate party that lasted all day.

But it always came down to this. "So, why aren't you married, a pretty girl like you?" asked one of her older cousins. Marigold was 55 years old by this time, and just girlishly blushed and smiled, and passed the tahini sauce over to Daniel Firesmith, who had to say, "Yeah, what are you waiting for, Shearer?"

She couldn't say. Somewhere in the back of her mind swirled another question that nobody here or back in California had managed to answer. "Who is Mary? Who is Marigold?" Who was she, anyway?

It was the song the singing river sang.