Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This Year in Jerusalem....

You'll have to excuse the recent slack in writing for this blog. Jerusalem is a place that more or less dominates your focus. Things turn upside down, inside out, and yet at the end somehow feel more balanced than ever before. Let me try to recap, though explaining might be out of the realm of my capabilities. Actually, I'm fairly certain it's out of the realm of language period.

So I've been in Jerusalem for over a week now and what a bizarre week it has been. After hitchiking/bus riding/budding up with strangers and catching rides up to Tzfat for a much needed Shabbat, I headed back down to Jerusalem by way of Tel Aviv, having made friends with the chevre that were currently enjoying Israel through the lens of Livnot. A friend, more of an angel really, took me and my old college roommate who decided to come to Israel to visit me in for two days. The first full day of Max's arrival we met up with a man I met in Nuweiba (Sinai) who lives in Jerusalem. He was born and raised here, works as an architect, and has many other interesting "hobbies" we'll say. He took us all over Jerusalem, showing us many amazing sites and giving us a walking history lesson. (Side note: I had no idea just how appropriate Antiquity Walking would be as a title for this blog.) After going all over Jerusalem, Max and I caught a night bus to Tel Aviv so as to show him the "other" side of Israel. We spent the next day in Tel Aviv, enjoy sunshine and the Mediterranean, relaxing in the evening with one of the chevre from my Livnot crew, sharing stories and spending most of our time in fits of laughter. If you don't know Max, he's a man with stories that could make even the Pope die laughing. The next morning we caught an early bus to Jerusalem hoping to take a West Bank tour with a non-profit group called Breaking the Silence. Unfortunately the bus we caught wasn't early enough and we missed the tour. Something to look forward to I hope. So we spent our day enjoying the Old City of Jerusalem, going to many of the Christian sites associated with the crucifixion of Jesus. Needless to say these were very intense places where the flashes of tourists' cameras illuminated the tears of the most devoted. It's hard to describe these places. There's a sense that it is supposed to have remnants of the divine, that it's a "holy" place, but with all the tourists and commotion that comes along with people, it becomes more like a heavy laden Disney Land. However, when you find an empty corner and take the time to just be, there is something of a silent power here, even if it's only the incredible energy coming from people's beliefs, there is definitely a weight and sensation indicative of "holy" places. But I digress....

So after a day of wandering the Old City with my old roommate and newly acquired chevre, we met up with Benny again. Now Benny, well he's an interesting guy (to say the least). I'm not quite sure how to describe Benny, but I can give you the basics. He's 51 & an architect that works for restoration here in Jerusalem. He's born and raised in Jerusalem, having served in the military he experienced many of the intifada first hand. Those are the basics. Now for the more "interesting." About fifteen years ago Benny became a monk, of sorts, a mystic really. He studies Kabbalah and Tarot, took a vow of chastity, the whole nine yards. He's probably the best story teller I've ever known, with a bald head and rotund belly that jiggles with his contagious laughter, and after spending an evening with Benny your mind is absolutely spinning. There's no way I can really retell the events of this evening or the incredible scope of conversation, but after Benny had told us of the process of his enlightenment and the things he had seen and experienced since accepting his enlightenment (stories that in the end leave you asking, "Is this guy crazy or am I in the twilight zone?") he proceeded to give my friend Max a most uncanny Tarot reading, one that I'm sure he won't soon forget. This was something he did for me as well in Sinai and earlier in the evening gave me another Tarot reading in Jerusalem that only echoed the same sentiment in Sinai. Apparently, "The Cards Don't Lie" (insert Jamaican accent).

After a night of mysticism, we woke to greet Shabbat. We returned to the Old City, Max and I finding a hostel in East Jerusalem, and Max, myself, and my travel companion from Egypt, Sari, all went out to enjoy Shabbat in the Old City, a Shabbat like no where else. We wandered with no real direction, wishing others "Shabbat Shalom" as we walked on, at times singing ancient Jewish melodies, led mostly by Sari who has a knowledge of Jewish music and a voice that sounds as though it has been singing since Creation itself. We went to the Western Wall where Max got his first taste of enthusiastic Jewish community. A packed crowd of such diversity, from soldiers to hassidim, dancing and singing, celebrating the return of the Jewish people and the fact that they have the opportunity to celebrate where their ancestors could only dream of. The experience is truly inspiring, whether you join in the celebration or watch from a distance, there is something so natural about bringing in Shabbat in Jerusalem.

The next day Max departed back to Dubai, vowing to return to Israel within two weeks time because, in his own words, "This is the most incredible place on the planet." We'll see if his sentiment carries him back here. In the meantime I have been enjoying some much needed solitude. Walking the Old City alone, visiting places such as the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives and other quintessential Jerusalem sites. I've also been spending much time reading a most incredible work by Abraham Joshua Heschel entitled God In Search of Man. The beauty of these thoughts, I believe, could not possibly originated from the mind of man, but instead come from incredible dedication to the study of Torah, which is exactly what Rabbi Heschel did. Though there is much to see and discover here in Jerusalem, I believe this book may be the greatest find of all.

So this pretty much brings us up to date. I've been extending the network of friends here in Jerusalem by participating in couchsurfing, a network of people all around the world that host travelers. I stayed with a young married couple for a few nights, getting a healthy dose of the purely secular side of Jerusalem, and am now staying with an artist who seems to know everyone in the city. (Every time I stopped to use someone's phone to call him, they had his number saved in their phone. Popular guy apparently.) I'll be in Jerusalem for another few days, hopefully through Shabbat, and then I'm heading to Bersheeva, the largest city in the Negev Desert, to visit a friend from the Livnot trip. He's a commander in the Israeli Defense Force, recently released as of two days ago, and is one of the most incredible people I've ever met. I can't wait to spend a few days seeing life in Bersheeva and meeting his fiance.

Well, that about sums up the last week or so, a very eventful and slightly disorienting (or maybe reorienting) week. I hope all of you who are reading this blog are finding great inspiration and joy in life wherever you may be. Out of a desire to share some of the magnificence of this place and the Jewish people in general with all of you, I'm going to include a quote from the book I was referring to in every blog post from now on. I hope it evokes as much thought and wonder for you as it has for me. Till the next post....

"There is only one way to wisdom: awe. The meaning of awe is to realize that life takes place under wide horizons, horizons that range beyond the span of an individual life or even the life of a nation, a generation, or an era. Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in the small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing, the stillness of the eternal."
- Avraham Yehoshua Heschel

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