A Message from the Prophets

 Just east of Machane Yehuda’s bustling marketplace stands Kikar HaDavidka – a square memorializing the improvised mortar that helped save two of the holy cities of Israel. (This is a digression, but one worth taking: Named for its inventor David Leibovitch, the davidka was the sole artillery possessed by Israel’s defenders in the early days of the War of Independence. It was crude, homemade, and rarely hit its target – but it made so much noise that Arab fighters battling the Harel Brigade in Jerusalem abandoned their posts in terror. The davidka was employed to even greater effect in Safed, where the panicked enemy feared an atomic bomb had exploded and fled the city.)

After paying your respects at Kikar HaDavidka, walk north – and you will find yourself on one of the longer and most fascinating streets of Jerusalem: Haneviim. (Haneviim has also been called the most beautiful street outside the Old City – but the title was bestowed pre-Mamila Mall, so like so much else in Israel, it is probably disputed today!) In any case, Haneviim winds past King George Street, past Ethiopia Street (more on Ethiopia Street here if you missed it), past the Italian Hospital, along the 1949 Armistice Agreement line – and finally ends just outside Damascus Gate at the entrance to the Old City. The street takes you on quite a journey, to say the least.

But what does the street’s name – Haneviim – signify? The word literally translates as “the prophets” – but what “the prophets” means in this case is not so clear. Haneviim may of course refer to the biblical prophets, many of whom delivered their oracles within Jerusalem’s gates – or it may apply more broadly to include seers of other faiths, as evidenced by the street’s proximity to the tomb of Nabi Okasha, which has been identified as the burial place of Jewish as well as Christian and Islamic prophets. The tension between these possibilities is actually reflected in the early development of Haneviim Street: Seven hospitals were built along the street between 1862 and 1919, several by Christian organizations with the aim of providing medical care in order to convert the Jews of Jerusalem. (The first such hospital was underwritten by The London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews – not exactly subtle!)

As we continue to face terror and bloodshed in the streets of Jerusalem and around the world, maybe we can look to Haneviim for hope. As Shabbat approaches, I’d like to share a passage from Neviim – from the visions of Judaism’s prophet Isaiah who imagined – and promised – a time when we will need no davidkas, will fear no foe, will join with Jews and with Christians and with Muslims and with all of God’s children in ascending to a world redeemed:

“In the days to come, the Mount of the Lord’s House shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills; and all the nations shall gaze on it with joy. And the many peoples shall go and shall say, ‘Come, let us go up to the Mount of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob…’

“And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; they shall never again know war…

“In that day, Israel shall be a third partner with Egypt and Assyria as a blessing on earth; for the Lord of Hosts will bless them, saying: ‘Blessed be My people Egypt, My handiwork Assyria – and My very own Israel.’”