If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem…

Religious Jews dance on the Via Dolorosa on Simchat Torah – the road where Jesus walked the stations of the cross, which is today in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Last month, this picture epitomized the interfaith harmony in Jerusalem.

There are so many things I could write about today: the announcements at writers workshop last night, of a baby on the way, challenged heart health, a victorious battle with cancer. I could write about the incredible bonds that build between women over time and when we share a part of ourselves.

I could write about reconnecting with an old friend whose presence truly brightens me day, or the learning and conversation with my rabbi yesterday. I could write about how happy my youngest son is to find an educational approach that truly ignites his interest, and I could write about the ballroom dance competition my husband and I are doing Friday night.

But all I can really think about is the awful attack in a Jerusalem synagogue yesterday. (Here’s another version of the same story.)

The closest I have ever been to the Dome of the Rock. A month ago, we had free access to get this close, without reprisal.

One month ago today, we were there. Not in that particular synagogue, but dancing and singing at the Western Wall. Walking through the Jewish-Christian-Muslim quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City. Standing less than a football field from the Dome of the Rock – unharmed and within reach of many Arab men who didn’t wish to attack us.

It’s amazing how things can change so quickly.

And so dreadfully.

Jerusalem bagels – baked and enjoyed by Jews and Arabs alike in this holy city. If we eat the same bread, perhaps we are not all that different?

I will never understand people who seek to hurt, kill and destroy. I will never understand people who give candy to children to celebrate deadly attacks on Jews and dance and cheer and celebrate deaths and destruction and terror.

I will never understand the thinking, the daring, behind walking into a synagogue when people are praying and approaching them with meat cleavers with the intent of ending their lives.

I just don’t understand.

The architecture of Jerusalem’s Old City is the same in all the quarters. How can people believe that we are so different at the core?

The Jerusalem I know is a vivid and beautiful, incredible city, with history and specialness for most of the people in the world. The soft peach-pink of Jerusalem stones – comprising the Western Wall of our ancient Temple, blanketing the cobbled stone streets.

Spirituality hovers in the air in Jerusalem; it does, I promise you, and I can’t really explain it. Just staring out a hotel window or walking up or down an old street, there is something thick in the air, the type of reassurance that comes with knowing you are connected to history and a higher power and meaning in this fraught world.

Yesterday, my rabbi, Aaron Bergman, sent out an email asking people to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. He wrote: “For thousands of years, we as a Jewish people dreamed of the return to our land, and especially to Jerusalem, the City of David, the City of Peace. We today are living the dream of those who came before us. Jerusalem is a modern and ancient city, a city where the prayers of all faiths are freely expressed without fear.”

A religious Jewish mother walks with her children through the Armenian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter to celebrate Simchat Torah.

“We, the Jewish people, took a city that was closed to all but a few, and opened it to the world, often to our own danger. We did so because it was, and still is, the right thing to do.”

So tell me why people are killing my people for being there, for praying, for praising the holiness of this wonderful place?

Whatever Jews have done throughout the ages and whatever reason most of the world turns against our beloved Israel time and time again, tell me what we have done? Do we seek to kill others, to end lives? Absolutely not. Murder and terror and horrific attacks on civilians is not a Jewish value; senseless death just doesn’t enter our psyche.

These streets are whisper-quiet and peaceful, welcoming, beckoning.

When the Israelis claimed Jerusalem in 1967, the Old City was a mess. Garbage piles littered the area in front of the Western Wall. There was no respect for this holy place whatsoever.

My people cleaned it up and, like my rabbi said, opened it to the world. Jewish sites, yes, but also Christian and Muslim sites, with equal measure and respect. Israeli police, consisting of Jews and Arabs both, patrol the streets of the Old City to ensure the safety of the holy sites and the people who want to pray there.

If you can make sense of an attack like yesterday, I’d love to hear it. I just can’t see it. I don’t understand why the world supports horrendous acts of violence against people who simply want to live in peace in a place that not only touches their heart, but lives in their soul.

Psalm 137:  If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand wither away!  May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth if I fail to remember you, if I fail to count Jerusalem the greatest of all my joys.

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