What can one say about Jerusalem. It is a city that seamlessly merges ancient and modern, building today from the same stone that the ancient Israelites used 3000 years ago. It is a city revered as holy by three faiths. It is a city which has inspired its own psychological disorder: Jerusalem Syndrome. And, it is a city of people trying to live their everyday lives.
Among the images of Jerusalem, these are the ones that predominate our imaginations: Yet, these images are only the smallest part of Jerusalem, or the Jerusalem experience.
The Done of the Rock, gleaming golden in the sun, the third holiest site in Islam, sits just above the Western Wall of the Ancient Temple. It is said that the rock at the base of the dome is the same rock upon which Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac. That rock is referred to as the Oompholos Mundi, the bellybutton of the world.
The Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, The Kotel, is all that remains (more or less) of the Second Temple. Jews have visited for centuries in an attempt to get closer to God, sticking notes into the cracks in the wall. Moving into the electronic age, you can now email your note and have it inserted. Yet pilgrims still come, and many Americans (and others) travel to Jerusalem each year to celebrate Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies at the wall (this was, in fact, the occasion for this trip to Israel: my cousin’s bat mitzvah).
The old city, however, is far more than just these holy sites. It also includes millenia of buildings, like the Domition Abbey.
No visit to the Old city of Jerusalem is complete without a trip through the markets. Crowded and bustling, the sellers are by turns friendly, cajoling, and insistent bargainers.
All of this is within the Old City. Without, there is another market, Machane Yehuda, where there are fruits, vegetable, and even kippot (yalmukes).
Yet none of this is my experience of Jerusalem. Jerusalem, for me, is a city a walk through. A modern-ish city of cafes and restaurants. A place which changes so fast that every time I visit (usually about 10 years apart), the routes I relied upon during my previous visit no longer exists, or no longer leads where it used to. It is a city in which I visit the Supersol each time, since I was 10 years old (it’s just a supermarket, but it one of my personal landmarks).
I’ve walk through the streets of Jerusalem in times of peace and times of trouble. There have been times when it was safe to take the bus, and times when no one took the bus for fear of bombs. I’ve walked these streets with family, with friends, with colleagues.
Jerusalem, despite all the change, is an eternal city. The more it changes, the more the heart of the city remains. It is a city which cannot be truly known, so much as encountered anew each day. It is a place which can spark the spirituality of our soul, or it can extinguish every spiritual impulse.
Jerusalem is a city which changes and endures. It challenges and soothes, but it is never boring.