Jerusalem Jeweler – The Friends That Solo Travel Can Find – Part III

The morning is but a few minutes old when I find him. Shopkeepers in the throes of opening for the day are arranging their displays and setting chairs outside their doors, from where they’ll call out to passersby, “Please, come into my shop.” The jewelry shop that belongs to Joseph is right where I’d placed my finger on the map of Jerusalem’s Old City the previous evening, having reconstructed the route which had led me to meet this man a year and a half earlier. I make just a couple of turns into the huge, curvy souk and see Joseph standing on the stone street, talking on his cell phone. His face doesn’t register surprise when he sees me.

A year and a half earlier, Joseph had crafted two small turquoise stones into earrings as we sat and talked, jewelry I knew he wanted me to buy but which he’d insisted was a gift – a gift which had given me guilt pangs, as I later realized I should have paid him. Yesterday our paths had amazingly collided for the first time since then, but the surprise of the encounter had caused all thoughts of finally paying this man for his work to fly out of my head.

Today I explain quickly why I’ve returned. I want to buy a second pair of earrings to show him my appreciation for the first. Joseph does not argue. We stand over his showcase, and he pulls earring after earring out of the glass case. Finally, he lifts out a silver pair with tiny amber stones, and I ask him how much he wants. I had promised myself I wouldn’t quibble with the price, so I hand him the amount he asks for. This doesn’t seem to surprise him either. Our meeting is uneventful, but with it the burden of feeling I must repay this man is lifted.

I’m no longer quite as lost in the souk as I used to be, when a week later I realize I’m approaching Joseph’s shop again. No fool, he verbally pulls me in as he has twice previously – a skill that must serve him very well in his line of work. We sit in the back, and a little boy appears in front of us. Joseph speaks to him in Arabic and the boy darts out the door, then reappears holding a metal platter. I take the small glass of sweetened tea sitting on it, and the boy disappears again.

Joseph and I talk for a long while. Always so genuine and so nice, I can’t help but like this man with whom I have such a good rapport. But every second he sits in his shop with me, someone passes by outside whom he could be pulling in to try to make a sale. He cannot waste time any longer. “Here we go…” I begin, as he places a green-stoned necklace around my neck, “…again,” he finishes.

No amount of talking, explaining or pleading will stop this expert salesman. “Sabina, take it. Wear it. Tomorrow I must go to Jericho. The next day, you come back. Then you tell me if you want to buy it.”

Joseph begins to close his shop, and I leave. As I walk, I am having second thoughts about taking this expensive necklace even for a couple of days. I had told Joseph that I am due to leave Israel the same night he expects me back at his shop. Immediately preceding my arrival in Jerusalem, there had been trouble on the Temple Mount, so serious that some were saying it could lead to the Third Intifada. Joseph’s shop is not far from the Temple Mount, and if violence erupts again, I think they might close off streets in the Old City. This could prevent me from getting back to Joseph and leave me holding a free necklace, similar to the free earrings I’d left Israel with over a year earlier.


The Necklace That I Walked Off With

Realizing that everything will probably be all right and I’ll be able to return as promised, I continue to walk out of the souk when a particularly aggressive jewelry shopkeeper named Omar appears before me, a man whom I’ve encountered before. I’m happy that I have the necklace to point at this time to give him a reason why I don’t want to come into his shop.

“Where did you get it?” the small, wiry man asks. I tell him it came from a man named Joseph around the corner. Omar rolls his eyes and snorts.

“His name is Mahmoud,” he tells me, each word uttered with disgusted emphasis. This shopkeeper describes exactly the man whose necklace I’m wearing, confirming that we are indeed speaking of the same person. I am surprised and disappointed that my new friend has been lying about his name. I’d known his real name couldn’t actually be Joseph because he’s Arab, but I’d figured he was just anglicizing the name Yousef to make potential customers more comfortable with him. “I guess he told you that he’s Christian too, didn’t he?” Omar asks with a scoff.

“No. Actually, he told me he’s Muslim,” I said, happy that Joseph hadn’t lied about everything.

Now I realize this Muslim named Mahmoud must be known for telling people that he is a Christian named Joseph. I understand what his reasons must be, but I wonder why he feels he must change his identity so drastically. I manage to squirm away from Omar and try to start thinking of the man I had known as Joseph now as a man named Mahmoud.

I return to Joseph’s Mahmoud’s shop two evenings later, knowing that I will not be keeping this necklace, as it is far too expensive and not at all my style. I am also wondering what he will say when I tell him that I have discovered his real name. Easily and graciously, he accepts the necklace into his hand. Just as easily he listens as I tell him of the rival shopkeeper who has revealed that his real name is Mahmoud.

“My name is Mahmoud,“ he says simply, without flinching. “Joseph is like a…nickname. Some people call me Joseph, some people call me Yousef, some people call me Mahmoud. You – you can call me what you want.” He smiles. Mahmoud’s attitude about his name fits in with the person I’ve gotten to know, a man whom you can see pulling answers to simple questions out of the air rather than out of his head. This is simply who he is.

My Travel Blog - earrings

My Second Pair of Earrings from Mahmoud a/k/a Joseph

No matter the man’s real name, this is my last night in Israel, and we decide to end my visit with knafeh. A popular and delectable Arab sweet, good knafeh is impossible to find in the U.S. and is abundant in Israel. I want more before I head back to knafeh-less territory.

I watch Mahmoud pull shut the huge brown metal double doors of his shop and padlock them into place, securing his jewelry against the possibilities of crime and mischief that night always brings. Most shops in the Old City are fitted with these modern metal doors built into ancient stone walls, one of the many collisions of past and present found in Jerusalem. Across from Damascus Gate we sit and eat the knafeh, as always far too sweet. Next, I bid Mahmoud good-bye, knowing I’ll be back and knowing that our paths will no doubt cross again in the future, probably accidentally, just like the first two times.

I arrive a day later back in the States and I learn immediately that hours after I left Jerusalem, yet another clash related to the Temple Mount did break out after all and that they did, indeed, close off many streets of the Old City, as I‘d feared they might. If Joseph and I had agreed that I would return the necklace just one day later, it probably would have been impossible. With the Old City barricaded, I would have flown out of the country carrying with me more free jewelry than I’d left Israel with the first time.

Now what a story that would have been.

Thumbnail jewelry photo by Catherinette Rings Steampunk

7 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Candice says:

    Oh I’m so glad you went back! What an amazing character. I feel like you could write a book about him. Sigh, is this the end of the saga?

  2. Sabina says:

    Oh, Candice. You are so sweet.

  3. Suzy says:

    Great story. I love the what if ending too. I had a friend in Sicily that had a similar experience. This shop owner kept giving her things just because he thought she would look good with all clothing items and jewelry pieces. Those shopkeepers are definitely stories unto themselves.
    .-= Suzy´s last blog ..The Young Woman and The Sea =-.

  4. Sabina says:

    Hi Suzy! Yes, there are plenty of colorful shopkeepers. Mahmoud’s methods were just so outstanding. I wonder if he’s rich.

  5. Darcy says:

    Far out I loved this story. I’m really glad you found him and managed to repay him. I can’t wait until your next chance encounter!
    .-= Darcy´s last blog ..Official Pre-Launch =-.

  6. Sabina Lohr says:

    Thank you, Darcy! I’m sure I’ll run across him again some day.

  7. […] Sabina of has written a series called “Jerusalem Jeweler – The Friends That Solo Travel Can Find” that I highly recommend. It’s a lovely story about a fascinating shopkeeper she has several encounters with in Jerusalem, and is told in three parts: Part I, Part II, Part III. […]

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