To be afraid, means that you are unwilling to see the possibilities of your future. It means you are beholden to the thoughts that surround your mind, the irrational ones that threaten the very future you are so afraid of running into. It means you are standing in a dark tunnel watching the light dance, rather than dancing in it yourself. That fear can be strong. It can cripple you into believing you will never achieve true freedom from your own paralyzing thoughts. It takes away your vantage point, and has you believing that you are frozen in this moment, unable to see past the tip of your nose. There is no real wide space that can possibly get rid of this fear, for the space that consumes your mind is all that, small, cramped, restricting, a confining corner that one can't escape.
This past week I had the opportunity to confront some of those fears. Lead by a fearless named Daniel Luria who is the head of an organization named "Ateret Kohanim," a non profit organization strengthening Jewish roots in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, I had no real indication of what I was in for when I showed up for his very exclusive tour. Little did I know that what awaited for me around the corner was the darkest secrets of the Old City that that very few are privileged to discover. Usually it takes months to get a tour with Daniel, yet here I was somehow right there at the Jaffa Gate about to embark on an exclusive adventure with “The Gatekeeper” himself. I thought we were going for a stroll, instead, I realized Daniel was about to transport us to another century of time, where the shadows of our deep rich Jewish past laid awake amongst the walking dead.
“So we goin on a tunnel tour or what,” I asked.
“Oh Chava, we are going on a deeper tour than that, past the tunnels, in the neighborhoods where Jews aren’t wanted, that’s exactly where we’re going- we’re going to the Arab quarter.”
To say I was scared was sort of an understatement. The last place you want to be found is in a small narrow winding street with nothing but strangers who don’t like you very much surrounding your every breath. And yet the intrigue of walking into the very place I was not welcomed, yet where I belonged, where stares and unvocal looks of hatred would be met eye to eye, was exactly where I was headed into and where I needed to be to let go of my provoking fears that makes me lie awake at night. Located in the Muslim section in Jerusalem, I took my last deep breath I’d have for the day, and entered through the forbidden quarter in the old city. Very few Jews get the privilege of going on this tour, in fact I'd say the mere fact I was given this opportunity could only be explained as a fluke, or as I like to call it, "Divine Intervention." For what is the very thing a person who walks in fear needs, but a dose of reality where fear has been present for centuries to learn how fear really works.
We walked through narrow streets, where countless pogroms once soaked the blood of my Jewish ancestors. Walls that carried the shadows of Mezuzahs that once lined these streets now carried empty skulls of grooved stone where scribes that once read "Hear oh Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is One" were imbedded in. Daniel took us to a quiet tucked away treasure, the Kotel HaKatan, which is part of the Western Wall, but located farther away from the well-known Kotel plaza. Small and unheard of, totally concealed from Jewish life in the Arab quarter, it has yet to see the light of day, but has only recently started getting visitors as Ateret Cohanim has been raising awareness of the historic site and said they hope to attract even more people to the location. Infact this wall is an even holier treasure for it is located even closer to the holiest site of the Jewish people's history, the "Holy of Holies", where Gd's spirit once rested here on earth during the reign of the first and second holy temple. He took us to the steps of the Temple Mount where the Jewish holy Temple once stood, and showed us how we could not walk past the third step, for Jews were still forbidden by that area as sanctioned. "Try it Chava, Try walking past that third step, see what happens," Daniel urged. I didn't have to try it to notice another group of Americans were turned away, only Muslims were allowed to walk through the gates to the Temple Mount. We walked into Ariel Sharone’s apartment where Mark Twain once stayed and where I imagined he stared through the same small window that led to the cobblestone narrow street surrounded by the old stone walls that once barred the markings of old Mezuzahs as well and where he contimplated the complexity of human survival, racism, and probably the delicate dance of fusing various beliefs on the same cobble stoned corner.
We walked past newly Jewish owned apartments that were once attacked so long ago by pogroms that had exchanged hands by force over and over again through the years, but had miraculously ended up back in Jewish ownership. Blood still stained the rattled stone floor. And as we approached a dark tunnel with no familiar face in site, no friendly neighbor wishing us Jews well, and we came out of the bend, Daniel led us to a locked door, which took us to a small Jewish owned courtyard, which led to winding stairs that he had us climb to the very top floor. The top of the roof gave us a vantage point of being able to see all of Jerusalem. The very vantage point in life I was hoping to finally see! I felt like a baby exiting a womb filled with blood making my way up to the tipping point of light. The Jerusalem I saw at that moment was filled with love, light, clouds of glory- possibilities that made me realize, I have nothing to fear at all but fear itself. For when you climb the top and have the advantage of seeing past all those fears inside your mind, you can truly be victorious in conquering the trepidation that has concerned you and surround yourself with a new charge of knowing that all of life's battles are there to lift you up past your own potential. For what I realized in walking through those small streets surrounded by the “Fear” was that the true guide to this tour was G-d himself. The true guide in life is our creator, helping us to see our vantage point, guiding us all the way. All one has to do is look up to know we are but shadowed by the Grace of G-d Himself to realize that our true potential lies in the belief that we can overcome even the greatest of obstacles that lies in the narrowest streets beyond the agitation of one’s self.
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