I think that it is safe to say that among the group there was a palpable yearning to get to Jerusalem … whether it was those who did not care for the desert or those who felt the imbalance of not having the Jewish Israelis with us in the Negev or those were still trying to transform their intellectual understanding of this place into their kishkes (guts) … we anxiously awoke Tuesday morning to head to the Old City of Jerusalem. For me (as I already told my wife when I spoke with her the night before) I felt a bit as if I was going to visit and old love or flame … I was a little bit nervous, wondering how she would look and how she would look at me, too! Also, as I shared with the group and some of you before I left on the trip … the time in Jerusalem visiting holy sites for Jews, Muslims and Christians WITH Jews, Muslims and Christians was an experience I greatly anticipated.
The actual experience of sharing those sites with the group realized part of that expectation as we faced the actual logistics of making it done. First, I must admit that I was a bit wary of the tour guide who would greet us to show us these sites and guide us through an important day of our trip. With the first few words of introduction that graced out of his heart, my concerns were put to rest. This Christian Arab welcome our group and what were about being here and how he prayed for the peace and cooperation of all three religions and lamented the lack of it in the current situation. So, with that hurdle cleared we headed on…
We needed to make the site of the Mosques by a certain time in order for the Muslims in our group to be able to enter and see and possibly pray. Given the layout of the Old City and the schedule of the day, we ended up going to the Western wall first … which, because of the timing and geography made it a good, but short visit. I had never been to the wall with people who were not Jewish — sounds crazy, but it is true — so to have the opportunity to help them get their heads and hearts around what they were seeing was refreshing. So as walked I tried to set the scene and answer some logistical questions: write a note or not write a note – what to say – what language to say it in – Hebrew, Arabic, English? The girls and the guys split up to go to their respective sides of the wall. We did not really have time to react and share our experience as we needed to make our way and through security (again) to the area of the Mosques.
We were fairly sure, but not certain that most of us would not be able to enter the Mosques – only the four Muslims among us if they could successfully make the correct Arabic declaration of faith. Unfortunately, for the rest of us … we were not able to enter. So, three of the four of them who were able to pass muster were able to enter, see and pray in these sacred places. For a Muslim there is a short list of things one must do in his lifetime … one of them was to come to Jerusalem and pray in the Mosque. Even though we were not able to go in and see for ourselves — I felt that simply the privilege of being near our friends as they fulfilled this obligation was something special. We actually spent almost an hour waiting in the courtyards of the Mosque, hiding from the sun and then beginning our processing of the experience at the Wall. We continued as we left the courtyard and stopped for drinks and coffee before moving on to the Via Delarosa.
As much as actually being at the sites was something, sitting in this cramped little snack/drink stores as the hubbub of the Arab Quarter bustled around us, the experience of talking about what just happened for some of us provided valuable insight, dramatic emotions and some surprises. For us Jews — and I laugh at this because it seems so Jewish — it was good and not so good — too short and too frazzled to really have the experience of the wall — put off by the unnecessary separation of men and women (yours truly) — unsure of what to feel or react at actually being at this place. And yet, a few of those in our group who are not Jewish were surprisingly and dramatically moved by being at the wall, by touching and becoming wrapped up in the Moment of the place.
Since only three of us actually were permitted to go into the Mosques we all were dependent on these three to capture what it was about for them … and they did tenfold. The words they used were joy – calm peace – best day of my life … but it was in their eyes in the way they shared these words that truly communicated the power of the experience for them. The experience of awe filled me with awe. To go beyond the intellectual of ‘knowing’ that these three faiths have connections to this place, but for me to get it in my kishkes (there are those guts again), to feel it and to ‘get it’ in this way will be one the most precious gifts I take home with me from this trip.
Off to the Via Delarosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher … a very different experience from my perspective for the group. Partly, because of the timing and flow of the day and our schedule we did not process the Christians members’ of our group experience at this Holy Site. Partly, because the nature of visiting this path that Jesus took toward his crucifixion on the cross weaves in and around the shuk (the mark) and through a labyrinth of a church. The Kotel (the Wall) and the Mosques (even if we did not go in) were set in open spaces, with distinct places to go to or be in. It was not until the end of the path, that we came to the tomb of Jesus that we had that sense of place – in some kind of sacred setting – to focus our intention and attention. And ever there, for me, amidst the line to get in and all of the myriads of people taking and pushing … I felt bad that I could not touch the sacredness of this series of sites. I look forward to hearing from our Christian group members when it is their turn to process.
After this busy and intense morning and a late lunch in the Arab Quarter we made our way to our hotel to have some time with Shaul Amir — former Israel Consulate to Denver and a veteran of three wars, including (appropriately for our day) 1967 when he was a part of the force that fought for Jerusalem and made it a part of the State of Israel. Our group asked good questions after hearing his story and his take on the Matzav (The Situation) … I think we all enjoyed having an Israeli Jewish voice as part of the stories we are trying to pay attention to on our trip. He expressed well his desire for peace, his impatience with the Jewish right and his own ambivalence (he may use a stronger or different word) for what he and Israel have had to do to be Israel. He would not change what we did – he felt he and Israel had to do it – but it does not mean that it sits well with him. Shaul shared with us a lot of interesting things … among them he shared with us the experience of finding the Western Wall … being among the first Jews to see it in so many years. Even so, on this day that seeing the wall was such an important part of our trip and our journey, when we saw it he had to be told what it was that he was seeing … it was not an image or even a desire that he had in his internal hard drive.
I think after bathing in the heavy glow of the Old City and carrying around its sacred baggage – we needed a different kind of light and to leave baggage behind for just a bit. We cabbed over to Ben Yehuda Street — an outdoor pedestrian mall where at least when I lived here was the place to be and be seen on warm summer nights. Ben Yehuda was just what the doctor ordered … time to walk, watch people, shop, grab a gelato … and DANCE! Some random Jewish/Bob Marley/Youth van pulled up at the end of the mall and started blaring dance music into the night. It attracted all of the Israelis there and our group as well. Dancing seemed like just the right thing after all of the internal dancing of the day (and rest of the trip, too). We got let some steam out and also balance the old, serious and intense nature of the Old City and the beginning of our day with the young, fun and playful nature of young men and women dancing because that is what young men and women do to celebrate the holy-ness of being alive.