We've had an eventful past couple days. Yesterday (Monday), we made our way from the Galilee down to Jerusalem. We enjoyed a swim in the warm (sort of) springs at Sachne, a gorgeous pool set amid palm trees and manicured gardens. Then we set out on the two hour drive through the West Bank on Highway 90. As one heads south, down the Jordan Rift Valley, the landscape becomes increasingly desolate. At Jericho, one catches a glimpse of the Dead Sea, and then begins the ascent to Jerusalem, emerging into the city proper through a tunnel beneath the Judean Hills.
After wandering through Tel Aviv and the north, it felt good to arrive in Jerusalem, where I actually know my way around. And no matter how many times one makes the trip, it is always a spiritual thrill to ascend to this hoy city, which our tradition views as the center of the world.
Today, we did a lot of walking, which is really the only way to see Jerusalem. We started out on the Haas Promenade, with its magnificent view over the whole landscape around the city. We went on to see the bustling downtown, and key sites in the Old City, ending, of course, with the Western Wall. I have always been a bit ambivalent about the Wall. I feel the sanctity of the place, even as I resent the fact that the Orthodox have turned it into, essentially, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, where women are second-class citizens. Still, I could not help but be moved as Jonah stuck his own prayer into the cracks between the huge stones, along with the prayers of so many who have stood on this holy ground.
But my favorite part of Jerusalem is the New City, rather than the Old. I love seeing modern Jewish life here, warts and all. I am amazed by the number of cranes punctuating the city skyline. The economy here is booming; they are building everywhere. It's loud and chaotic and meditative and irritating and holy and profane and moving and frustrating and never, ever boring. The miracle here is not the ancient stones--even those of the Western Wall. It's the school children, the parents, the young people, going about their daily business.
As Yehuda Amichai, the late and great 20th century poet of Jerusalem wrote in "Tourists":
Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David's Tower. I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their reference point. "You see that man with the baskets? Just to the right of his head, there's an arch from the Roman period. Just to the right of his head. . . But he's moving, he's moving!"
I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, "You see that arch from the Roman period? It's not important. But next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family."