His name is Fadi. In Arabic, it means Redeemer.
Fadi lives above the busy market place in the streets of old Jerusalem. His father has a shop, as many do, where he makes a living by selling olive wood ornaments, and jewelry, and icons, and beads.
We meet Fadi as we are shopping on the Via Dolorosa. He is a Coptic Christian, whose family came from Egypt. As we talk, I am mesmerized by twelve stone steps under a big arch that lead up to a hidden courtyard. I can see plants. I can hear laughter. I know that this is where Fadi must live. I take a photograph, and I ask, falteringly:
Would it be okay if I just go up those steps to take a picture?
He laughs, and nods, and says:
Come, see. I will take you all up there. Come up to the rooftops of Jerusalem. Come see my home where my family has lived for hundreds of years.
And this is what we do. All six of us. We follow Fadi up those secret steps and onto the roof of his house, where birds fly high over Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque and the famous Mount of Olives rises in the distance. We have a private tour of Jerusalem that surely no American or British tourist has been treated to before.
And then he takes us into his home. He opens wide the door, as delicious earthy smells emanate from a tiny kitchen. His mom steps out smiling, brushing her hair from her forehead with the back of her palm and wiping her floury hands on a well-used apron.
Welcome, welcome to our home, she says, as if foreign visitors invade her house every day.
And he takes us through the tidy bedroom, where huge grape leaves lie drying on newspapers draped over the edge of the bed; and into his living room, where dried pomegranate skins sit in a silver bowl – looking, and smelling, far more wonderful than any store-bought potpourri.
The small front window looks out onto the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest Christian site in all Jerusalem…one of the places where it is thought that Jesus died and rose again.
We stand in Fadi’s home. Next to him. We are strangers; we are foreigners; but we are treated like family.
His name is Issa. In Arabic, it means Jesus.
Issa sells scarves in a tiny stall on the Via Dolorosa. He is young, and shy. He is not pushy, as some of the other vendors can be. He tells us he is studying journalism at university. When he graduates, he will seek work in Dubai. We buy our scarves, and Issa says:
You would like coffee?
He disappears while we shop and reappears holding small cups of strong Arabic coffee, roasted with fresh ground cardamom seeds. It’s not Starbucks. It’s delicious.
And suddenly, he smiles with his eyes and asks:
You want to see something special?
Well of course we do! He opens a door in the walls of the street just near his stall and whispers to someone inside. Above the door we see the sign that denotes the eighth station of the cross – the place where Jesus fell under the weight of the wood.
And seconds later, the door is opened to just the six of us. We step inside and our breath is taken away. It’s a tiny church, hidden inside the city walls. While shoppers buy, and haggle outside; while hustle and bustle reigns beyond these walls, we lift our voices and sing in the quiet…
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
And it does.
We say goodbye. We carry on walking, and laughing, and shopping, as tourists do. But I turn and run back to Issa, whose name means Jesus. And I ask. I just want to know. I am interested:
Issa, are you Christian, or Muslim?
I’m Muslim, he says, touching his heart. Is that a problem?
No, no! I reassure him. You’re Muslim. I’m Christian. You’re my brother. I’m your sister.
And Issa smiles, and touches my arm. He is young. But so mature.
Here in Jerusalem, he says, we don’t ask. We just live together…as one.
And every time I wear my scarf, I will think of Issa, whose name means Jesus. And every time I see my olive tree ornament that says Peace, I will think of Fadi, whose name means Redeemer.
And I know I have two new brothers who live in the old city of Jerusalem.