Note the plural in the title. It is not an error, but the theme of this note.
Designations of Jerusalem above and Jerusalem below have been around for a long time. They have been adopted by Jews, but may have been introduced in their explicit form by the New Testament. (Galatians 4:26)
Jerusalem below is the earthly city. Jerusalem above is the spiritual aura associated with the city.
Just as many people who claim a belief in God think of that idea (or creature) in different ways, we can assume that there are any number of Jerusalems above, each tailored by an individual who comes to this city and feels a spiritual message, or thinks of Jerusalem from afar and attaches to it a personal set of inspirations. Some may think of Jerusalem above as the Garden of Eden, or Heaven.
Here I wish to describe yet another concept of Jerusalem above. It is as personal as all the others, but it is less spiritual than pragmatic. I think the general idea is shared by a number of other people who live here, but the details may vary from person to person.
The Jerusalem above where I live most of the time is reached with some effort. It involves screening out all the spirituality that untold numbers of people attach to this city. The idea resembles how New Yorkers live without visiting the Statue of Liberty or paying attention to the oddities seen on the sidewalks or in the subway. New York has its aura, that most residents may ignore most of the time. Perhaps all cities have something special, even spiritual about them. Maybe even Fall River, although I never noticed.
In Jerusalem the aura is hard to miss. One has to work a bit to reach the Jerusalem above that is aspiritual.
It is hard to think of another city that matches Jerusalem for its heavy loads of spirituality. Rome and Mecca may come close. For obvious reasons I cannot comment on Mecca. While I was impressed by St. Peter''s and the Sistine Chapel, I perceived more people enjoying the art than engaged in prayer. Moreover, Rome and Mecca are the spiritual capitals of one faith each. To be sure, they have a larger constituency than our tiny community, and there are different kinds of Christians and Muslims who can see in Rome and Mecca their own views of an upper world.
Jerusalem is distinctive in being a spiritual center for all kinds of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, with sites inspiring to each cheek by jowl, or at the most a hundred meters or so from one another.
One can avoid all of this. I avoid it most of the time and I suspect that large numbers of others do the same. I know it''s there, but I don''t see it. I notice on the media that there is a dispute about this and that, with a parade or demonstration here or there. I can ride Bus #68 along Bar Ilan Street, Bus #4 through Mea She''arim to the city center, or the Light Rail that stops at "Shimon Hatzadik" and then "Damascus Gate." I see ultra-Orthodox passengers geting on in their neighborhoods, often with baby carriages and another young one or two or three by their hands. Once on board, and if not busy with children, the women may read Psalms and the men study a page of Talmud. Damascus Gate is a stop for Arabs to get on or off. Most are likely to be Muslim and a high proportion of the women will have their heads covered.
I see all of this, but I don''t dwell on it. I may not even notice it. I''m either reading a mystery that I''ve picked up at a second-hand book shop, or listening to whatever my music gadget has decided to select for that moment from my collections of classical and folk.
Don''t get me wrong. I enjoy the excitement of Jerusalem, and I have profited greatly in a professional sense from more than 36 years of living and working here, writing books and articles about the city. I also directed a rabbi''s dissertation, I study Talmud Saturday mornings with a religious friend, and I''ve been inspired by the Armenian Mens'' Choir chanting in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
But enough is enough. Insulation is necessary. I avoid curses against religious Jews, Christians, or Muslims of various persuasions; such activity would be futile, and would be an invitation to trouble in this city.
I like my place in a Jerusalem that is above the fray, either of intense religiosity or conflict about who is right and who started the trouble.
I also retreated to my corner of Jerusalem above after coming to some understanding of what Israel, the United States, Europe, and Iran are doing with respect to one another. I won''t bet who will blink first, and how the many sided game of chicken will end. What happens will happen. It may not be pleasant, but no one in power will have asked me what to do.
Syria, Libya, Egypt, and all the other detritus of Arab spring are even further from my every waking moment. I don''t expect enlightenment in any of those places, and none of them are on my list of places to visit.
The American presidential election is fun to watch. Currently one of the former Mrs. Gingrichs is the media star.
Sanity is more valuable than total immersion.