Just A Thought: On Jerusalem

This week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jerusalem's liberation.

Pigeons resting inside a crevice in the Western Wall (photo credit: MARK NEYMAN / GPO)
Pigeons resting inside a crevice in the Western Wall
(photo credit: MARK NEYMAN / GPO)
Its been said that Jerusalem is a city that one arrives at but can never pass beyond.
This is true not only for the individual, but for the entire Jewish people.
Since our rendezvous with Jerusalem more than 3,000 years ago, we have been in its thrall, unable to move beyond. Like Jacob’s post-angelic limp, it haunts our nights and animates our days. There has never been a people in love with a city as much as Jews love Jerusalem.
Jerusalem and our hope to return to it has bled into our prayers and our beings in both blatant and subtle ways. We remember it even at our most joyous of times. A Jew cannot eat as little as a cookie without confronting Jerusalem in the al ` prayer one is required to say after a snack.
It seems that Englishmen do not love London nor do the French pine for Paris as much as Jews do for Jerusalem. I have certainly never seen an American long for Washington, DC.
Though the vast majority of Jews through the millennia had never seen even a photograph of it, much less tread its cobblestone streets, this did not stop them from ending their Passover Seders with the hope of “Next Year in Jerusalem!” Every Yom Kippur fast ends with those words echoing in the synagogue, delaying our breaking the fast in order to celebrate the city, feeding our souls.
What is it about Jews and Jerusalem that connects us so? What can possibly explain this? Our Torah was given on a mountain in the desert and the Talmud was composed in the Galilee and Babylon. The Shulhan Aruch was written in Safed. On the vast scale of Jewish history, Jerusalem only makes its debut a quarter of the way in, and even then, it is but a cameo of a few hundred years in the life of our people. Yet the effect of our meeting has permanently altered our consciousness.
We have been smitten, never to be the same again.
While God was discovered by Abraham in Ur Kasdim; and the Torah given by Moses at Sinai, and even though neither Abraham nor Moses ever heard of the city as such, still it is impossible to imagine a Judaism devoid of it. A Judaism without Jerusalem is like a dance without music.
I’ve tried to answer this question but fail to add any new understanding to the phenomenon. I too, am left baffled, and the question remains. Trying to explain that our connection to Jerusalem is like our connection to our mothers over other women in the world just sounds trite and doesn't scratch the surface of capturing the nuance of our relationship with it. Instead, I just embrace it.
This week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of its liberation. This is the first time in 1,900 years that there are more Jews who have experienced a sovereign Jerusalem than can remember it under alien rule. For them, a foreign flag flying over the city belongs in the same category as the expulsion from Spain or the Temple’s destruction. A terrible time but in a distant past to which is hard to relate.
This can only be remedied by spending as much time as possible in Jerusalem. Not just to shop or work; or even pray. We must go and discover it. When I was younger, I used to take my Walkman in hand and try to get lost in Jerusalem. I would go down streets and alleys, trying to discover new nooks and crannies. I would sit on park benches and people watch or sit in a cafe and linger over a coffee. The best is finding a new hole-in-the-wall spot for felafel or hummus. Sometimes I would follow a walking tour from a book and stumble upon a new amazing site.
I want to conclude with one of my favorite quotes from S.Y. Agnon. It’s the quote that inspired me to take my walks. Unfortunately, my English doesn't do justice to the glorious prose of his Hebrew.