Lemme tell you a story. A couple of years ago an editor of mine suggested that I disguise myself as a foreign backpacker, check into a Tel-Aviv hostel, make friends with other guests and travel the country with them. The article, she anticipated, would give an interesting point of view on Israel. "For one week, go wherever they go," she proposed," Tiberias, Akko, The Dead Sea..."
The backpackers with whom I made friends never went to any of these places. Having left Tel-Aviv, they checked into a run down hostel in Old Jerusalem and stayed there for the entire week, doing very little besides playing cards in a messy room overlooking the dome of the rock. They were sweet, though, and I truly enjoyed being with them. They guessed me to be South African and I went with that.
Four days into the project I found myself on the rooftop of the hostel at sundown. Before me was a view unmatched: The dense rootops of the Old City bore the golden Dome of the Rock. The church and tombstone-dotted Mount of Olives rose pink and calm to recieve the sun's last rays. Clasping the dark domes of the Holy Sepulchre were so many towers: that of the Terra Santa institute, with its black pointy hat, that of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, romanesque and elegant, mosque minarets, slender and pculiar...
Flags were waving in the wind, speaking of a hushed war, of tense subterranean waters. The hum of the two new cities: Jewish West Jerusalem and Palestinian Musrara, coming from afar, spoke of life. I was at work, doing nothing. I was a tourist in my own city and a foreigner looking at the house where he grew up (It was indeed visible, atop French Hill). This was a very strange moment and I felt both calmed and moved by its beauty.
I'm not a religious man, rather, I'm a Tinkebell agnostic. I'll except that there may be a god, since I can't prove otherwise, so long as everyone else accepts that Tinkerbell may exist - they can't prove otherwise. I am mad at the religions of the world for promoting simplistic thinking, for being irresponsible and offering bad politics such readily available, dangerous fuel. Than again, I cannot deny: I had a true spiritual moment in Jerusalem, and isn't Jerusalem God's hometown?
This week, twixt palm and Eater Sundays, I went back to Jerusalem as guide for a small group of French tourists. We saw a big group of African pilgrims in flourescent green robes covered with images of Jesus and Mary. We saw a man bearing two crosses down an alleyway (why?). We saw children playing in Mea shearim courtyards who have never seen a television set and know nothing of the world outside. The light in their eyes is centuries old.
We saw stone. The British, while in control of the city after 1917, decreed that evey wall built in it must be covered in stone. Jerusalem, old and new, is consequently as heavy as stone. It is a city constantly on the verge of tears. It impacts the visitor ceaselessly, with every step, with every encounter. That moment on the rooftop never passed, it's still going on.
So Jerusalem isn't only God's hometown, it's also my hometown, which may account for my sentimentality, but the intensity of scores of African pilgrims wearing green altar pieces certainly contributed to my small epiphany. I thank St. Helen and the Umayyad Caliphate for building those domes, I thank those who kiss the stones for kissing them, I thank the possesed street musicians for singing American accented has-been Hebrew hits along Ben-Yehuda Street. Screw Tinkerbell, I believe in Jerusalem. Happy Easter, Happy Purim and a lovely springtime to all.