The Holy City

Do you promise to come back, my taxi-driver asked? When at all possible, I answered.

Where would that conversation have taken place? Well, in Jerusalem, this week. And, indeed, if I can go back, I will, partly because I saw so little. Professional obligations blocked the early part of the week and in the later part the unrest made it inadvisable to go into the Old Town from my hotel outside.

My answer to the question reminded me of the Jewish mantra ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’, an expression of such longing for home and for religious and personal freedom! Jerusalem, a home for three religions, but a home always being torn, so full of tension, as events this week tragically showed.

I had wanted to just stroll through the Old Town, enter through Damascus Gate, happenstance on the Via Dolorosa, take in the Armenian Quarter, marvel at the tomb of Crusader queen Melisende of Jerusalem, bow my head at the Western Wall, lift my gaze to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. All these names and places so full of magic! When I left for Jerusalem my wife said ‘you will open the window and it will open to the Orient’. Indeed!

If you love the idea and reality of Jerusalem you should read ‘Jerusalem: the Biography’ by Simon Sebag Montefiore, a scion of one of the great families of Jerusalem. Montefiore shows you how the ultimate spiritual city has been fought for, died for, has given rise to unimaginable cruelty and yet has remained so dear. What terrible irony that ‘home’ and the highest spirituality can also cause such barbarism! Jerusalem is not only The Holy City, it is also a most powerful symbol of human nature: inhumanity residing side-by-side with humanistic ideals and impossible beauty!

My book talks about how God may not be able to exist without the Devil – that good may be predicated on evil, beauty on the ugly. If you look for evidence, Jerusalem is the place to look!

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