I haven’t blogged for a little while. I think deep down the reason is because I have dreaded writing these next two blogs: a farewell to Jerusalem and a farewell to my year of study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
“If I forget you Jerusalem…” These words can be found in Psalm 137, attributed to King David. They console me because I’m not the first one to feel the pit in my stomach when I consider leaving my apartment here and heading to Ben-Gurion Airport to return home.
Jerusalem isn’t easy. She’s not Eilat or Hawaii. She’s a dense pressure cooker where her Jerusalem stone beats down on you on sunny days and her streets collect the snow during the winter. Her citizens are pushy with little regard for presentation or even courtesy. There are too many cars for its roads and too many people for her Old City. Yet, Jerusalem is bigger than all that.
Jerusalem stands as the single oldest, strongest witness to a tradition that has changed the world. Jerusalem demands that all who enter her gates recognize that Holiness exists and there must be a place set aside for it. Jerusalem is that place. Great religious traditions and religious leaders have arrived here and recognized it. I haven’t set foot everywhere in the world, but I’m confident in my bet that there is something here that does not exist anywhere else in the world.
Over the course of the year, Jerusalem has shown me much of what she has to offer. I have observed Jews and Christians and Muslims worship here. I have seen theater performances and movies and circuses here. I have felt the consternation of soldiers loading buses to undisclosed destinations on Sunday mornings and the smiles of soldiers coming home before Shabbat. I have watched young couples kissing at coffee shops and the death of great Rabbinic figures. I have learned from legends and bought too many books. I have been overjoyed by my children playing on the playgrounds and by my family visiting us to share the experience.
Living in Jerusalem is humbling. I recognize that the city has been here for thousands of years before me and for thousands of years after. We are all but brief visitors in her story. She is the Helen of Troy of cities. All leaders gaze upon her with desire. All her citizens walk proudly through her streets and all others are merely guests.
Political leaders have squabbled about her boundaries. And they will forever, because everybody wants to claim a piece of her. After living here for ten months, I believe Jerusalem is bigger than time and space. We should aspire to the day when Jerusalem is not restricted to boundaries – where Jerusalem is felt everywhere throughout the world! On that day Isaiah’s prophecy will come true, “For the law will go forth from Zion, And the word of the L-rd from Jerusalem.”
I will feel a longing that I know I will never lose and that I pray I can pass on to my children. That is what King David and the entire tradition demands of me. It should be what my children demand of me. It is what Jerusalem demands of me. “If I forget you Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten.” But by that point it won’t matter. If I forget Jerusalem, I will already have forgotten my soul.