Jerusalem is real. I keep having to tell myself that. I am really here. I’ve spent the past several years learning about this place, and I’ve spent my life hearing stories that happened here. If you can say anything about Jerusalem, it is real.
I keep having the experience of reality, stark and undefinable. I wrote to a friend the first couple of days in the country that the experience is “spooky powerful.” I had that sense when I stepped in front of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where Jesus rose from the dead. It was that it happened, here, it was real. I had the experience again today stepping into the church of the nativity. The world stopped making sense, it just was. Even with Nigerian and Russian pilgrims jostling each other in the line to walk into the cave where Jesus was born, even with the hubbub of cameras and Greek Orthodox chant, something was very real.
We followed the monophysite Armenian patriarch’s parade through the streets and ended up at the Wailing Wall last night to watch the gatherings for the beginning of Shabbat. As the Jews were roaring their songs and dancing in circles, the call to prayer sounded from the Al Aqsa Mosque right above them, up on what the Jews regard as the temple mount and signs in the area declare that Israel will one day rebuild the temple. (Muslims revere the place as the site where Muhammed ascended to heaven and brought back holy revelation from God about how to pray, so they aren’t really enthused about the Jews wanting to knock down their shrines to build a temple.)
It was so beautiful, and sooo sad. There is so much tension and power struggle between these traditions, and so much deep faith. It’s moving and maddening. Religion is a mess, and to come to a place that is fought over as the holy site by three religions just hurts and brings profound joy.
Today we went to Bethlehem. In order to do so we had to leave Israel and enter the Palestinian West Bank. The experience was eerily familiar after years of crossing the San Diego border into Tijuana, Mexico. I found it incredibly appropriate that Jesus was born outside the walls and announced to outcasts. The walls only went up a few years ago, and the distinctions they enforce are stark. Palestinians live in rather extreme poverty compared to the wealth of the average Israeli. Many are not allowed to leave the city in which they live because they are cut off by the wall. Without any recourse to trade, and scarce jobs in Bethlehem, the economic situation grows worse. We saw a large settlement camp just inside the Palestinian area, with its own fenced off road only for Jewish settlers.
This is a photo of a mural on the separation wall.
I of course love the Spanish, which translates. “Viva Free Palestine, even under the fascist wall!”
Jerusalem is very real, the beauty and the conflict, the pain and the joy. I feel incredibly luck to be here, to walk in these spaces, to feel the reality. I also feel overwhelmed and unable to process it all.
Well, the call to prayer I’m hearing out the window means it is close to dinner time. I hope this finds you all well. Feel free to leave me some love on the comments board.