Final Shabbat (and final day) in Jerusalem.
I spent the morning at my favorite synagogue in Jerusalem, Yakar.
Yakar is a traditionally-oriented congregation (men and women are seated separately), but it is also somewhat egalitarian in that women have leadership roles in the congregation and in the middle of the service everyone breaks for Torah study-and men and women sit and learn together. It is part of a growing number of traditional congregations that are experimenting with a more egalitarian model and want to incorporate social justice and modern values into their traditional Judaism.
After lunch, I decided to stroll to the tayyelet, the magnificent promenade that overlooks the Kidron Valley and the Judean desert beyond. I am living on the edge of the neighborhood called Emek Refaim (“valley of the giants”-and before you ask- no one knows what it means) and it is quite literally an ancient valley so a stroll to the promenade is all uphill.
The Sherover-Haas Promenade was built two decades ago and rings the edge of the Kidron Valley. When I reached it, I could have forgotten that I was in a city of 800,000 people. I was almost completely alone on the promenade, no doubt in part due to the blazing heat of the afternoon. A few yards away a couple of Arab kids lolled in the grass listening to music and smoking, but aside from them, it seemed that the city was empty.
Across the Valley, to my left, is the Old City and the shining Dome of the Rock. To the right of the City is Mt Scopus and the campus of the Hebrew University. Next to Mt Scopus is the Mt of Olives and the famous cemetery containing thousands of graves of devout Jews, and traditionally the place that the Messiah will appear. Directly in front of me are the Arab villages of Silwan, and further on, Abu Dis. By now, it is an old and tragic story. Abu Dis was slated to become the capital of a Palestinian state under the Clinton\Camp David Plan. The Palestinian leadership chose war instead and Israel suffered the horror of the second Intifada, which brought daily explosive death to the streets of Jerusalem. A legacy of that war is the security wall which is plainly visible to me on this sunny day running along Abu Dis; a sad symbol of a truly lost opportunity but a necessary evil in order to preserve the lives of Jerusalemites.
To the right of Abu Dis is the Hill of Evil Counsel; in the New Testament the site where it was decided to arrest Jesus and for many years the headquarters of the UN (giving rise to many bitter jokes). Beyond the Hill, on an exceptionally clear day, it would be possible to see the Judean desert and beyond that, Jordan, but haze obscured the view.
As I gazed out over the Valley, the air was filled with the call of the muezzins from the Arab villages below, seemingly harmonizing with one another and ending with the cry Allah Hu Akbar! (God is great). I watched for a while, hearing nothing but the call to Muslim prayer. As I made my way back to the entrance, I passed a large group of Israeli teenagers, clearly older; perhaps in a pre-Army or leadership program. As I passed them, their leader was studying with them a Hebrew poem about Jerusalem. My last glance revealed the Jewish kids studying poetry, the three Arab youths enjoying the quiet and the shade and the magnificent and awesome view of the ancient city and its ancient conflicts.
I turned and slowly made my way downhill, back to the Valley of the Giants.
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning, If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. Psalm 137:5-6