Religion & Beliefs

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated with Jerusalem

Yesterday I wrote about how I don’t connect with a sense of national exile, and last week I wrote about how some days I don’t really connect with Israel at all. I stand by those statements, but since today is … Read More

By / July 24, 2007

Yesterday I wrote about how I don’t connect with a sense of national exile, and last week I wrote about how some days I don’t really connect with Israel at all. I stand by those statements, but since today is tisha b’av I thought I’d write a little bit about my relationship to Jerusalem, and about how I juggle celebrating her, and mourning for her. Here is what I’ve found: Falling in love in Jerusalem is like being punched in the face repeatedly. There is sudden pain, and then a deep throbbing ache wrapped in sweet wooziness. Then the sudden pain returns. It doesn’t sound like fun, and it isn’t, really, but everyone does it. If you can’t find a person, the city itself is enough to seduce you. Every day hundreds of thousands of people weave up and down her streets, hopelessly and totally in love, and Jerusalem responds explosively, without any hint of tenderness or benevolence. Visitors and locals unite in their heaping praise on Jerusalem. Jerusalem of Gold, they call her. Her air has the scent of wine, her breezes sing in the trees like bells. Jerusalem accepts the compliments you and I and everyone else heap upon her, and then, carefully, she spits in our eyes.

Jerusalem is how we learn to miss things that are right in front of us. We ride buses and jostle through metal detectors and endure the sweet rotting smell of the shuk because we’ve become addicted to hummus from a particular stand, or the delicate strawberries on sale in cardboard boxes. Occasionally we stand in front of a smooth stone wall and make ridiculous requests, or watch others, overcome with emotion, who weep theatrically into the crevices between the bricks. The city is a jumble of mismatched architecture, dirty buildings with clothes flapping on lines where they’ve been left to dry, and garbage kicked around by the wind. There are days when it doesn’t seem particularly valuable, like a frustrating old computer to whom you’ve grown inexplicably loyal, and somehow can’t bring yourself to replace even though the screen shorts in an out, and it makes a loud humming noise. And there are days when it feels eerily familiar. Most days I can’t imagine myself living in Israel, much less Jerusalem, home of the most judgmental people on the face of the earth. But sitting on the floor last night, reading Eicha and looking around the darkened room at more than a hundred other young people mourning the devastation of Zion, I briefly pictured myself at home amidst the sharp light that reflects off of Jerusalem’s solar panels, and the rough ache of Jerusalem’s embrace. I’m not filled with hope every day, but on occasion it makes itself known.