Israel Profiles

The Shoemaker

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I don’t remember this shoemaker’s name.

What I do remember is that I trusted him.

You see, I have this prayer book. It is more precious to me than most things I own. I had it custom made years ago and it has travelled with me to every country I’ve visited. 

It has been at the receiving end of the span of my emotions. My hopes, my fears, my triumphs.

And until a few weeks ago, it was slowly dying. The time it went camping with me and had been left out in the rain had taken it’s toll. The cold. The heat. The use. The pages were peeling apart from the binding.

I went from bookstore to bookstore around the ultra-orthodox area of Jerusalem asking if anyone knew where I could get it rebound. One woman in a shop suggested that I take it to this shoemaker on some obscure street a few blocks away.

I looked at him, an old man, sitting in a shop. He tried giving a woman change and she motioned that he should put it on the table, instead of dropping it directly into her hand (for modesty reasons).

He sighed and straightened his kippa (headcovering).

He turned to me and I showed him the prayer book.

Him: I can do this.

Me: Are you sure you can do this? Because, really. This is really special to me.

Him: Sister, I’ve been sitting here and working as a shoemaker for over 20 years. And I know what a prayerbook is. I’m telling you I can do this.

He quoted me for $5 and he started working. After a few minutes, he stopped chatting. He was invested in the work.

The drill. The dust of pages being swept away by his hand. It was literally as painful as watching a surgery.

After 30 minutes of sweating and threading, he turned to me.

Him: I was sweating. I wouldn’t have done it for so cheap if I’d have known how much I’d be sweating. I mean, 5$ is ridiculous.

Me: Do you want me to pay more for the sweat? I can pay more for the sweat.

Him: (shrugs)

Me: (pays more for the sweat).

This is a shoemaker.

This is Israel.

Photography by Rochel Spangenthal

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