They say you don’t merely travel to Jerusalem: Rather, one ASCENDS to the eternal and ancient capital of the Jewish people. On shabbat in Jerusalem, time and space stand still: Thus even as at, more or less, the same moment that Hosni Mubarak stepped down in Egypt, signifying enormous change in the region…Jewish life continued on, unabated, as it has for centuries in this sacred place.
On erev Shabbat ( Day 4), our community trip members went to pray at the Western Wall: Men on one side (the larger side), women huddled in a narrow strip towards the end of the wall. Still, one encouraging anecdote: A tour leader of a Birthright trip, who stood on a chair near the mechitzah (separation wall), in order to lead both the male and the female college students in a united prayer service. I had the priviledge of placing about a dozen notes into the crevices of the wall, notes given to me with the hopes and dreams of several of our congregants. Although that practice is not one to which I personally subscribe, I hope their prayers are answered. The following day (Shabbat–Day 5) was a true day of rest. Many in our group attended services at the Great Synagogue ( Orthodox), or at the Center for Masoreti Judaism (Conservative), or at the Hebrew Union College ( Reform– and CLOSED).
On Day 6 we spent most of the day touring the Jewish Quarter of the Old City; the afternoon was devoted to a better understanding of the difficulties presented by the proximity of so many new Jewish neighborhoods to so many Palestinian residential areas. The Palestinian neighborhoods are distinct in their miserable road conditions and mostly delapadated homes and businesses; mostly, though not entirely, this is due to the choice that Palestinians have made, to turn down requests to improve their conditions, requests made by the Israeli government. Still, it is sobering and sad just the same. Driving through these Palestinian neighborhoods was, for me, extremely uncomfortable. Seeing several Hamas flags flying, is not exactly a welcome mat to Jewish tourists. Anecdotally, I have been told that many of the new home buyers in these new Jewish neighborhoods are French Jews, who are purchasing them as their “escape valves” should conditions rapidly devolve in France. These neighborhoods, by their sheer strategic positioning, are meant to protect Israel’s citizens from attack. Whether one supports their construction — or not — it seems important to note that they are not being built in random fashion. More on this at next week’s Lunch with the Rabbi.
Day 7 began with a lecture delivered by a childhood friend of Ann Frank. It preceeded our visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s portrayal of the accounts of the Holocaust…told through a distinctly Israeli lens. Our entire group was captivated– and moved — by the impact of the museum…and what the Holocaust’s lessons are — for Israel and for the Jewish people. At the end of the visit, I shared the wisdom of Stewart Perlman’s father — of blessed memory : “You never want to wake up one morning…and find out that there’s no State of Israel”. What would have been different, one might ask, would there have been a Jewish State, and a Jewish army, back in the 1930’s and early 1940’s ? And what is the role of the Jewish State today, when another deranged (yet elected) leader of another country ( just to the east — Iran) denies the legitimacy of the Holocaust…and the legitamacy of the Jewish state ? And, in a different vein…what are the lessons to be learned,for Israel today, about the uses, and the abuses of power, when dealing with another group of human beings…even one’s enemies?
And finally, speaking of one’s enemies…can we talk about the news in the Middle East, as seen from here? On the front page of this morning’s edition of the Jeerusalem Post, headlines deal with protests and revolutions and arrests and crackdowns…in Egypt, in Iran, in Jordan, in Algeria…and in the Palestinian territories. On the inside pages, Israel’s outgoing chief of staff shares the fact that Israel has already made plans for a future government of Egypt, which may not recognize its peace treaty with Israel. Under the heading of “there’s nothing new under the sun”, it is reminiscent of the opening verses of the Book of Exodus: And there arose a new Pharoah who new not of Joseph…”
But in the meantime…in the meantime…a Jewish nation endures. And continues to build. And thrive. And succeed. Against all odds. Surrounded by a sea of enemies.
In the meantime…Jewish parents continue to love their Jewish children…and Jewish children continue to draw strength and comfort from their parents. Right here. In the homeland of the Jewish people. Theirs, yours, and mine.
Tonight (Day 8) we head for the other place we call home. See all y’all back in Nashville. Where, by the way, I understand my dear friend Maher has some hummus and felafel waiting for me at Kalamatas in Green Hills…I’m looking forward to a taste of home cookin’ there as well.