Jerusalem

I would really love to post all my pictures from Jerusalem, call out some tourist places, and call it a day.
But that wouldn’t be accurate.
Jerusalem is….Jerusalem. It’s always been Jerusalem, and that word still carries so much weight.

Here, here is our challenge: to love all our brothers; even, and especially, those who hate us. Israel is so paradoxical because in the midst  of the “promised land” there is still so much hate. I’ve been here almost a month now (wow) and it’s becoming horribly apparent to me from every angle that I am not enough in myself for the hatred that infiltrates us all and is magnified here in such a small and tense arena. My first real realization of this was Jerusalem–nothing epitomizes this conflict as Jerusalem. There I was, in the holiest of holy lands, where martyrs and saints and kings have walked, and you would think that everyone belonged to a “gang” because that’s really all it felt like–like the Jets and the Sharks ready to shiv each other over control of the corner soda stand. It’s astonishing how like children adults can be. And it’s shameful because we should know better. We should be creating a better world for our children, not training them in the combat.

When walking Friday night to the Western Wall, I saw a religious Jew and Muslim boy and his mother cross paths (about six inches away from each other at most, because the streets are so incredibly narrow..the ancient, cobblestone streets of Jerusalem, that cry out with every step). As naturally as breathing, the boy jumped around and started laughing at the Jewish boy on his way to pray. (Just for the record, the boy’s immitation of dancing was a horribly staunch depiction of men’s Shabbat dancing. It is powerful and majestic…a sight to behold.) The boy’s mother did nothing, but complacently walked on.

I was shocked. Of course this goes both ways, and I am not educated enough to give facts or statistics on such conflicts, but in my lowly opinion  facts and statistics are like crutches to an injured man: he can get around well enough but he cannot walk upright. They demean the issues of humanity and civility down to figures and pieces of paper and ink. And the fact of the matter is that when human life and peace is on the line, facts and statistics are meaningless. For God’s sake, we’re all the same people.

I know that for many who live here and have grown up here–Israelis and Palestinians alike– that such blatant hatred has become a way of life and one must develop thick skin. You really do when you live in a place that people want to wipe off the map. But to me, the fact that this type of perpetual whitewashing–talk of a nation or a country “free of” another group of people–is precisely the problem, not the solution. I thank God that I’m still in shock, because it means that I’m not immune to it.

This country is so beautiful. It’s so rich in ancient history and biblical tradition. It’s a wonderful place to be, but it’s also difficult and very exhausting, from a personal level, too: when I strike up a conversation with someone and I see their eyes immediately dart down to my cross, up, and down and back up again, I can’t help but stop my train of thought and wonder what just happened. Who cares? The fact of the matter is that many people do care quite a lot about another man’s faith. I’ve also gotten this: “Are you Jewish?” “No.” “Then why are you in Israel?” And this: “Are you Jewish?” “No.” “Christian?” “Yes.” “Oh, Jesus.” “…”

What about him?

Maybe if we weren’t all so concerned with names and titles we could realize that we all drink the same water and breathe the same air and that that creates symbiosis among us, whether or not we want it or even like it. As my mom would say, “tough.”

The Fig Tree and The Shuk

Two, almost three weeks now in Be’er Sheva and I feel much older. Soon I will have to do adult things like buy laundry detergent and toothpaste…permanent actions that mean I really am here and I really am staying. When I was planning for this trip, I planned for a lot of extraneous circumstances like two day hikes and outdoor camping trips. That’s all well and good, but I neglected the fact that my life would continue during these months!! The sun rises and sets here just like it does in Memphis and Yardley; the seasons change, the people yell, the cats scratch, politicians argue, beer gets brewed and drunk. You go to pubs, you study, and every Friday night you pray and thank God for all his infinite blessings. The weeks seem so long here, but time somehow moves more quickly. If i were lucky–not that I believe in luck, but if I were in a movie–I’d say I’m living someone else’s life. I look around and think about how I got here and I can’t but smile. And then I know that I really am here. I’m home! These are my pictures on the wall; these are my books; there are my clothes in the closet; there is my homework to be done; there is my tea to be drunk.
I went a few days ago to the Shuk, the daily outdoor market in the “Old City” by the central bust staion. Stalls and stalls overflowing with tomatoes and cucumbers, bursting at the seams with fresh fruit! So many varieites I had never seen before (cactus fruit, guava, passion fruit……). I stuck to what I knew: plums and fresh figs. FRESH FIGS! They’re everywhere here, even in the desert (truth: okay, it was planted a few centuries ago, but we hiked up sand dunes to the Mediteranean and picked fresh figs off the tree :)) I accidentally bought about four pounds of figs at the Shuk because I didn’t have the courage to ask for half a pound (I mean kilo. What?!) But that seems like a serendipitous problem. If I had more kitchenware I would make a fig and cheese tart with the excess, but alas, I’m back to basics in my apartment with gas stovetop and “travel” pot.
I also bought a mountain of pita bread (pronounced pee-tah, not pee-dah…glad I have Israeli friends to call me on my Americanism…), some cheese (I have no idea what kind because I still can’t read the signs…) and some fish–both fresh and smoked salmon.

SMOKED SALMON!!!!
So happy.
The Shuk also features huge sacks of grain (think Biblical times), nuts, dried fruits and spices. Next time I go I’m bringing someone with me to help translate 🙂
I’m so happy here. Happy in a very strange and liberating way. But I know I have so much responsibility ahead of me. My first weekend here, I was asked to think about and meditate on what I want out of my time here, and I wasn’t sure. I’m still not completely sure, but whatever it is, it is slowly coming into focus…
I’ve also been terrible about saying my prayers here. But I still find comfort in words:

“Since we have the same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak…for all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound in the glory of God.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward world is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.”

This country is overflowing with paradoxes. Paradoxes, or milk and honey…