With the recent violence in Jerusalem waning a bit, on the last night of the journey, I decided to make a complete circle of the ancient city walls, from Zion Gate to Jaffa to Damascus and back around again, observing the teeming life, the incessant traffic, the commerce, the smells, the parents with school children, the tourists and residents, all exactly the same on each side - yet totally disconnected from the other side of the city.
And then, as darkness descended, I parked at Zion Gate and strolled though the Jewish quarter and down to the Kotel. In contrast to the bustle outside the walls, it was so peaceful and quiet inside. Almost no tourists there at that hour (given the violence of the past few months, few venture to come to the Old City at night).
At the Kotel itself, hundreds of Haredim were gathered for the evening prayers, a sea of black surrounding myself and my son Dan. When the Ma'ariv service was done, they broke into a circle dance - the song, very familiar, was "L'shanah ha'ba'ah b'Yerushalyim," "Next year in Jerusalem". A perfectly inspiring song. Except that it's "this year" and we were/are right there, already in Jerusalem. That juicy blurring of vision and reality, of past, present and future, echoes the first verse of Psalm 126, "When the Lord restores the fortune of Zion, we see it as a dream." Are we really here? Has the dream been fulfilled? We ask God to pinch us, so that we might awaken to a glorious new reality, an old reality, really,a vision fulfilled. Clearly, for this group of Haredi dancers there is still some fulfillment that needs to take place - a rebuilt Temple, a messianic restoration - and for others, like me, that "next year" that we are praying for involves two states at peace with one another, bustling and alive, like the two sides of this ancient city. But we all are singing the same song of longing while dancing in a dream-like place, a place that my great grandparents could only have dreamed of achieving.
Post-pinch, we awaken, and Jerusalem is not yet "there." The quiet of the old city is exquisite yet deafening. The quiet is in itself a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem, a beautiful, if fragile, gift, as well as a reminder that for tourists less intrepid (or foolishly impulsive) than I was that day, the dream of a united, peaceful Jerusalem remains far from fulfilled.
Click on the photos to enlarge.