The Human Spirit: Jerusalem the wondrous

For most people, the tunnels and ancient walkways are more compelling than Tel Aviv sushi bars.

barbara sofer 88 (photo credit: )
barbara sofer 88
(photo credit: )
A BC television's popular Good Morning America and the USA Today newspaper came up with the intriguing idea of proposing a new set of Seven Wonders of the World. The original set was first comprised over two millennia ago and finalized in the Middle Ages. Interesting that while six of the original Wonders are gone, the one hand-crafted by our ancestors, the Pyramids of Egypt, remains. The new list generated enormous curiosity and speculation throughout the United States. When the choices were announced, the good news was that one of them - along with the Mayan Pyramids and the creation of the Internet - is our own beloved Old City of Jerusalem. How delightful that these major news networks, whose reporters are usually dispatched to cover gory clashes here, were able to see beyond the enmity and ashes to appreciate the beauty, the multiple layers of history and the spiritual strength of Jerusalem. Considering the candor of our local citizenry, eager to share gripes, grievances and grumbles with reporters, this is even more remarkable. Hats off to ABC, from this city of ubiquitous and assorted head coverings. We're often a poor Chamber of Commerce for ourselves, losing sight of the fact that the uniqueness that drew us to Jerusalem will be fascinating to others, too. Who of us hasn't traveled to a so-called historical site in another country and realized it was, well, quite new? What garnered votes for Jerusalem? That the sites are ancient, accessible and still relevant. There was a poignant image of a young mother and newborn praying in the tunnels under the Western Wall. The religious landmarks within the square kilometer of the Old City are, in the words of ABC, "almost too incredible to comprehend." Adorable children of all faiths were questioned about what God looked like. They spoke about ice cream and fun holidays, and not hate. They interviewed residents of the Old City about what it's like to brush your teeth or make dinner living amidst holy real estate, and citizens like me who are simply passionate about the city. The friction wasn't waved away, but the emphasis was on the positive. The TV series also included the story of Baby Salaam, a Palestinian child who had been abandoned in a garbage dump. Rescued by a mechanic looking for scrap metal, she was adopted by Sister Sophie and her orphanage in Bethlehem. And when she was diagnosed with congenital heart problems, Dr. Eli Milgalter at Hadassah Hospital volunteered to fix her heart. Today she's five, and has been adopted by a Christian family in Europe. I HOPE someone from the Ministry of Tourism is taking notes and quickly formulating a plan. Those in charge of marketing our nation to tourists vacillate about what to stress in promoting tourism. Here's a free tip from ABC: for most people, the mysterious tunnels and ancient walkways are more compelling than Tel Aviv sushi bars. We need to advertise Jerusalem's Wonder Status. But beyond that, we, here at home, need to learn to appreciate these treasures. I couldn't help thinking of that Yiddish story about Azyk of Krakow who dreams of a great treasure under the Warsaw Bridge and travels there to seek it. Despite his efforts, a watchman guards the place and denies him access. When the traveler reveals his dream, the watchman says he's dreamed, too, about a treasure in the home of a man named Azyk in Krakow. Azyk returns home, and depending on what version of the story you're telling, finds the treasure in his oven or buried under the ground. Not that we can't appreciate the ceramic soldiers in Xian, China (not on the Wonder list, by the way), but we need to be promoting our own magnificent historical sites, the strong connection to faith, and providing the infrastructure to make them more user-friendly and cleaner. Here's some of what we need to make known to the world out there. On one hand Jerusalem is a very modern city. Cafes offer free wireless Internet; ATMs communicate in various languages and currencies, and hi-tech companies manufacture the world's best laser monitors. But in other ways, Jerusalem is an ongoing seminar for the soul, where people in queues are reading psalms and where a stranger might tap you on the shoulder and offer you a traditional Shabbat dinner, where a repertoire of thousand-year-old songs are sung with enthusiasm. This is a city of wonderful stories, and I've never met guides anywhere as good as ours. Despite the tension, we live together surprisingly well. Our No. 1 internal tourist site is the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo. The animals are terrific, but the easy interaction between the two-footed creatures outside the enclosures is even more joyful. Fascinating interactions do take place. Just a few days ago a Jewish taxi driver told me how in an earlier career as a bus driver, a Muslim woman once gave birth on his bus on the way to Rachel's Tomb, a site where people pray for fertility. Unsure what to do, he drove to a convent and got the nuns to help. A Jew drove a Muslim to a Christian for help. And speaking of the biblical Rachel, in Jerusalem, the past and present meld in surprising way. A story going around Jerusalem is that a young man was so moved by Rabbi Benny Lau's recent Torah class about the patriarchs and matriarchs that he stood up at the end of the class and publicly proposed to his girlfriend. (She accepted.) That everyone minds your business might not sound appealing, but when a retired Swedish journalist friend recently slipped on the sidewalk on the way to the pharmacy, a young sabra not only stopped her car to help him up, but waited until he filled his prescription to drive him home. Then she disappeared like a youthful Prophet Elijah. The wonderful Hebrew word pitzutzia means a nut and seed emporium. The source of the giant hot roasted almonds I buy told me that one of his biggest customers was Jimmy Carter! When Carter visited Jerusalem, the nuts the hotel provided were so good that he insisted on learning the source. Now Jimmy's a visitor whose expertise on Israel is questionable, but he does know something about world-class nuts. The treasures of our city need not be secret. Let's be brazen in sharing what one ABC panelist coined "the wondrosity" of our city. But just remember, to sell it, we have to believe it ourselves.