I just completed a wonderful visit to Jerusalem for the Hanukkah holiday. It is still a thrill each time that I tour the holiest and most fascinating city on earth. My home is in Haifa, but the City of Gold is just a two hour bus ride from my front door. The news today in our region sounds promising. Will Israel and its Palestinian neighbors live together in peace? Let us hope that indeed is the case. Jerusalem is an important issue. The story is designed to help explain its history and the passions associated with this incredible place.
My favorite trip in this glorious nation is to Israel's capital. I always visit the Tower of David, where King David composed the 23rd psalm. The Tower of David (Hebrew: מגדל דוד, Migdal David, Arabic: برج داود, Burj Daud) is an ancient citadel located near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City ofJerusalem.
Built to strengthen a strategically weak point in the Old City's defenses, the citadel that stands today has ancient foundations and was constructed during the 2nd century BC and subsequently destroyed and rebuilt by, in succession, the Christian, Muslim, Mamluk, and Ottoman conquerors of Jerusalem. It contains important archaeological finds dating back 2,700 years, and is a popular venue for benefit events, craft shows, concerts, and sound-and-light performances. The name "Tower of David" is due to Byzantine Christians who believed the site to be the palace of King David. They borrowed the name "Tower of David" from the Song of Songs, attributed to Solomon, King David's son, who wrote: "Thy neck is like the Tower of David built with turrets, whereon there hang a thousand shields, all the armor of the mighty men." (Song of Songs, 4:4)
This week's visit was joyous. The museum was filled with visitors from all over the world. Christians from Belgium, Muslims from Haifa, and Jews from Israel and abroad shared the almost mystic spirit of the shrine and the holiday atmosphere of Hanukkah. The area of the holy sites has upscale shopping, cafes, educational campuses and spiritual centers. It was Hanukkah and therefore Sufganiot or donuts were everywhere. Fried foods are a holiday tradition, a reference to the oil that miraculously burned for eight days.
I dined at a beloved Arab restaurant, and enjoyed the cuisine of traditional Arab cooking accompanied by a Miller Light. Then, I crossed the street towards The Tomb of Jesus, where I am always inspired by the visit. It still amazes me that the distance between The Tower of David, my favorite restaurant and the Tomb of Jesus is just a few minutes walk. The Western Wall,or Kotel was the highlight of the tour. It is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple's courtyard, and is one of the most sacred sites in Judaism outside of the Temple Mount itself. According to the Tanakh, Solomon's Temple was built atop the Temple Mount in the 10th century BCE and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The Second Temple was completed and dedicated in 516 BCE. Two thousand years ago Jews were expected to pray in The Temple. According to classical Jewish belief, the Temple acted as the figurative "footstool" of God's presence and a Third Temple will be built there in the future.
My first trip to Jerusalem was seven years ago. I was accompanied by my cousin Chaya, which is the Hebrew female name for life. Life has very special meaning to the people of Israel. We must never forget the Holocaust. Six million lost souls who died for the "crime" of praying in a Synagogue. Twenty thousand souls have perished defending this small and brave nation. Israel is a nation of only seven million citizens.
Chaya is Jewish Orthodox and by the age of thirty had six wonderful children. She is also an American Olah or immigrant to Israel. Her family immigrated to Israel two decades ago. Their intention was to be in the holiest city in the holiest nation on earth. My pride and joy is her now eight year old son, Elchanan. He is a handsome, brilliant, and very precocious young man with dark hair, brown eyes, and a very enchanting but somewhat sly smile. His mom refers to him as a walking Chamsin (turbulent storm), and his proud grandma jokes that he is Israel’s greatest threat to stability!
Chaya, like most residents of the holy city takes great pride in giving guided tours of her beloved metropolis.
During my visit, we enjoyed touring the city on Israel’s double decker bus 99. El Chanon managed to get into everything and talk to everyone to the merriment of all, including our bus driver Haim. He has been a resident of the city for forty years. Chaim told us in great detail about his recently born and first grandson. We were enthralled to hear a Druze visitor from the North tell us about his families support of the Jewish Yishuv during Israel's War of Independence in 1948. We chatted with a group of Christian pilgrims from Belgium. They were seeing Jerusalem and neighboring Bethlehem for the first time.
The 99 bus navigates a route of both scenic and cultural interest. Mount Scopes boasts a visage encompassing the Old City, the Temple Mount and Bethlehem. As the Old City passes into the remote distance, the New City boasts iconographic sites. The Knesset houses Israel’s parliament. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial remembers all those that were the victims of history’s most insidious crime. The Israel Museum is a testimony to Jewish endurance and continuity of their presence in the Land of Canaan (between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea). It is also the home to one of the most impressive and famous discoveries dating back more than two thousand years. The Dead Sea Scrolls written by a group called “The Esseim” describes life in this region in the era of The Second Jewish Temple.
Jerusalem has been the holiest city in Judaism and the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people since the 10th century BCE. It has long been embedded into Jewish religious consciousness. Jews have studied and personalized the struggle by King David to capture Jerusalem and his desire to build the Jewish Temple there, as described in the Book of Samuel and the Book of Psalms. Many of King David's yearnings about Jerusalem have been adapted into popular prayers and songs. The 23rd Psalm is my most revered. Traditionally, Jerusalem has been the focus of longing for Diaspora Jews who were forced from their land and the Temple of their God. Psalm 137 is the well-known lament of the Babylonian Jews who wept "by the rivers of Babylon" and declared, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither."
For Christians, Jerusalem's place in the life of Jesus gives it great importance. Jerusalem is considered a sacred site. The city is holy in both Sunni and Sunnite Islamic tradition, along with Mecca and Medina. Islamic tradition holds that previous prophets were associated with Jerusalem, and that the Islamic prophet Muhammad visited the city on a nocturnal journey.
The Holy City is one of the most studied and most controversial in the world. Jerusalem has great spiritual value to both Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is a political arena as well. Should Jerusalem be the capital of the Jewish homeland, Palestinian homeland, or both? The Jewish people was denied the right to pray at our spiritual center openly and freely for two thousand years. The 1947 United Nations Mandate for Palestine made East Jerusalem an international city with guaranteed access for all. We were denied that access by Jordan until 1967. Israel is both the homeland of The Jewish people but also of Judaism. The City of Gold is its heart.