Sunday, July 1, 2007

We'll be leaving Jerusalem shortly, a city of much beauty and complexity. Historical and contemporary narratives swirl around every corner... sometimes as gentle as a cool summer breeze, sometimes as violent as a tornado. So many extraordinary moments... so difficult to express... As one of the group said after a particularly moving Shabbat morning service at the Orthodox egalitarian (not an oxymoron) Shira Hadasha, "sometimes silence is the only appropriate response."

Walking through the Western Wall tunnels and touching stones that were put in place more than 2,000 years ago... Walking through the Shrine of the Book and reading Biblical texts also written more than 2,000 years ago... so much more fragile than stones, but somehow more enduring as well... or at least their messages are clearer, easier to decipher. Meeting with MK Michael Melchior and being challenged to lend our Diaspora hands to help deal with the issues which tear our Jewish hearts.

Some observations from members of the group:

"Spending time on Ben Yehuda Street on Thursday night was such an invigorating and exciting experience. The buzz, energy and enthusiasm was palpable... Friday evening, spending Shabbat at Kol Haneshama (one of the most successful Reform synagogues in Israel under the inspired leadership of Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman) is something I will always remember. Jews from all over the world gathered and prayed together as one...It is very difficult to articulate how special I felt."

Another: "Things that surprised me: 1)The amount of construction going on in Jerusalem; 2) the amount of traffic, 3)how few soldiers were carrying rifles."

Another: "The close proximity of the security wall to the Old City is jarring. The fact that relations between Jews and Palestinians have not improved over the decades is disappointing. Will there ever be peace? No signs point to it."

Another: "One little thing struck me as a big thing. The 40th Anniversary banner outside the walls of the old city (marking 40 years since the liberation of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War). It seemed to rub the Arabs' noses in their defeat and in the occupation and colonisation."

Another: "Something that surprised me: My feelings about davening at the Kotel have not changed over 30 years. The spiritual energy was powerful."

To end again with a poem by Yehudah Amichai:

Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of eternity.
The Temple Mount is a huge ship, a magnificent
luxury liner. From the porholes of her Western Wall
cheerful saints look out, travelers. Hasidim on the pier
wave goodbye, shout hooray, hooray, bon voyage! She is
always arriving, always sailing away. And the fences and the piers
and the policemen and the flags and the high masts of churches
and mosques and the smokestacks of synagogues and the boats
of psalms of praise and the mountain-waves. The shofar blows: another one
has just left. Yom Kippur sailors in white uniforms
climb among the ladders and ropes of well-tested prayers.

And the commerce and the gates and the golden domes:
Jerusalem is the Venice of God.

That's it for now... more later.



Jillbz said...

I love reading your posts - thank you so much for taking the time to write about your experiences. And what a nice touch to end the posts with poetry by Amichai! Reading your words reminds me of how I felt the year we lived in Jerusalem - it is nearly impossible to put into words the complexity of the country and the contrasts that one experiences nearly every day. Sometimes I found it hard to process the mixture of very holy moments with everyday occurrences (like the building cranes) - it would remind me of the prayer we say in Havdalah about chol and kadosh - profane and sacred - and it is all wrapped up, sometime in even one moment or one conversation, on the streets of Jerusalem. Thank you for helping me feel connected, once again, with Israel through your eyes and hearts. Jill Zimmerman (new rabbinic intern)

zevshanken said...

For a few years I took my high school students on thour to Levi's shul to meet with their high school students. It was interesting because many of those kids' parents were my age, and American. The two groups usually got along very well because they understood that, but for a few different parental choices, they could have been them. How many of you who visited Levi's shul felt that way, Rich? -- Zev Shanken

zevshanken said...

Since one of your groups' goals is to compare earlier visits to Israel with this one, here's a poem I wrote a few years ago after visiting Israel for the first time in thirty years.
-- Zev Shanken

Three Weeks After the Six Day War

I was pouring concrete near the Kibbutz kitchen
when the Arab I’d worked with yesterday called me over.
He pointed to a young bound lamb on the lawn and asked me to hold its legs.
I obeyed and then I asked why.
“Ani shochet,” he said and with workman alacrity cut the lamb’s throat.
The blood drained silently onto the grass like water from a warm bath.
I felt the lamb’s life drain away.
I was visiting a Temple Sacrifice and understood
why in Hebrew korban comes from the root word “near.”
It comes from a passion to make illusive life concrete,
tangible, subordinate, even if gone.
It begins with awe, then falls into rules, technicalities,
necessary distancing rituals.
We turned the poor creature into lamb chops that resembled
what my mother used to fix me for lunch in Pleasantville, NY
when I was four years old. My favorite part was the eye,
but I also loved gnawing on the gristle.
At the hadar ochel I told Carla that today I understood ancient sacrifice
and how ironic the juxtaposition of sacrifice, awe and savagery
with my precious memory of early childhood.
Carla said, “Tell it to the lamb.”

zevshanken said...

For your trip to Petra

One way to understand the European fascination and frustration with the Arab world is not to see it through Jewish eyes. I teach my Hebrew School students key episodes from the film Lawrence of Arabia to expose them to 'arabists' ideas that are not basically anti-Jewish. Arabs are Europe's American Indians -- primative noble savages corrupted by being too pure for the double talk of the materialistic 20th century. That's the mythological ecological niche they occupy.
The film had a big impact on my generation for other reasons too, and I used some of its key lines in a memory love poem I wrote a few years ago when I went back to Israel, as I said earlier, after being away thirty years. I'll post that poem if I can find it. It may be fun to try to remember the film when you're at Petra.
-- Zev Shanken