“Hi. I’d like to buy beans,” I told the barista, letting my coffee-snob self out of the box. In accented but clearly fluent English he chatted with me for several minutes about acidity levels, brewing methods, and sourcing. I decided to try out relatively small amounts of two kinds of beans. He ground them for me (slightly courser than espresso but finer than drip, if you’re curious), and I paid with a credit card. Then I walked with a classmate of mine to sit on a bench alongside a pedestrian highway. People walked, jogged, biked, and roller-skated on by as we chatted. If the coffee was cheaper (I paid over $20 for less than a pound. Oy.), this could have been anytown America. Instead, it was the German Colony in Jerusalem, about a 20 minute walk from where I live.
That was Wednesday. On Tuesday, I walked with some classmates about 30 minutes from where I live and ended up… well, a picture’s worth a thousand words, right?
If you are of one of the three Abrahamic Faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), there is within this tiny city at least one immensely holy site.
If you’re Jewish (or probably also if you’re not), this is bound to look familiar:
We visited the Western Wall plaza, although none of us felt the need at the time to go up to the Wall itself. That’s a pretty crazy thing about living here. The Wall isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime (or once-every-time-one-visits-Jerusalem) event. I could go right now if I wanted. One fun thing about going the other day was seeing the plaza’s sukkah, which, I gotta say, has some serious wall art bling going on.
Among the reasons we walked to the Kotel that day was that we had already been to another faith’s holy site, and one of my classmates pointed out that it felt weird to visit that one without also dropping in on one of our own. I suppose she had a point.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is absolutely a sacred space, even if it’s not my sacred space. When we entered the church, pilgrims were prostrated, their heads against a long flat stone where they believe the body of Christ to have been prepared for burial. We climbed the steep stairs to Calvary chapel, built on the site where Christ is said to have been crucified. Back on the ground floor, a long line of people waited patiently to visit Christ’s (vacated) tomb in the Church’s center. I felt soaked in devotion and awe– not because I hold the same beliefs as Christians, but because there were so many Christians experiencing so much in a relatively small space. I felt glad for them and honored to be there with them.
Exploring the Christian Quarter of the Old City in general was very cool, as I’ve really only spent time poking around the Jewish Quarter (y’know, the one they take you to on Birthright). I look forward to more adventures there, and in other parts of the Old City.
Back in the modern city, I went to a street fair which reminded me very much of American street fairs in a lot of ways except that I don’t know of many street fairs in the states where you could find fresh-pressed pomegranate juice.
The next night, only a few blocks from my apartment, I came across a huge peace protest outside of the Prime Minister’s residence. Israelis, Palestinians, and international supporters of many political persuasions had marched to Jerusalem together, and this rally was the culmination. There was power in the crowd in the same way as there had been in the church. I couldn’t understand everything that was said, in a mix of Hebrew and Arabic, but the feeling of hope and need for change was real. I got choked up as the mixed multitude cheered and sang. I felt lucky to be a part of it.
I’ll admit that my plan for this week was to travel. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be in Jerusalem for shabbat, much less all week. It’s sukkot–the only substantial break (aside from my unauthorized trip to Prague next month) that I’ll get until January. I knew that this would be a great time to poke around other parts of the country. But, well, I didn’t. At first I felt kinda bad, like I was squandering away my time. Then I realized that, while I have had a lot of downtime this week, I’ve also done a lot of exploring within this city, and that’s worthwhile. I’ve walked in the Old City and around the new. I’ve been on plenty of streets and in plenty of neighborhoods that I had not yet visited. I connected and reconnected with classmates from different rabbinical schools. I do intend to travel throughout this year as I can, and as I can find buddies to accompany me, but in spending my break here I had experiences that were simple and significant. The blessing for this week fits right in with that. This comes from a classmate at RRC who has already studied in Israel. She says:
Sending blessings for safe, wonderful, growth-full time!
I’d like to think that I’m cradling that balance point between growth and safety. I’d like to think that I am acquiring some wonderful memories. I think that I am. I think that this is still just the beginning.
Tonight I’ll bring dessert (babka from Marzipan, if you must know) to a shabbat dinner in the sukkah at my Yeshiva. I’ll spend the evening eating and enjoying the company of people whom I’d not met seven shabbats ago but who are likely to be my rabbinic colleagues in a few years. I’ll walk to dinner along a road that was completely foreign to me in September and that now feels like the center of my neighborhood. There’s growth. It’s good. Shabbat Shalom.