”What is it like to live in Jerusalem?”

When did you last read a psalm?  Most of the time, I admit that I don’t understand very much of the text. But this one, written around the year 1000 B.C., fits me perfectly today.

From Psalm 122

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

May they prosper who love you

May peace be within your walls,

And prosperity within your palaces

For the sake of my brothers and my friends,

I will now say, “May peace be within you”.

For the sake of the house of the LORD our God,

I will seek your good.

st-andrew-s-scottishThe other week I went to a book-launch at St. Andrew’s Scottish Church in Jerusalem. It was a lovely evening, featuring three feisty English/Israeli ladies who had decided to publish their first novels together.  The ladies read excerpts from their three very different books, and shared some deep insights into our lives as immigrants, Jews and women. On the terrace overlooking the walls of the Old City, the authoresses also shared wine and cheese with the audience. Away from my regular, everyday routes, where I barely lift my eyes from the urgent tasks at hand, I stood with a glass of wine in one hand and looked across the wadi to the nearby Mount Zion and almost bowed under the burden of living in this extraordinary city. The physical beauty of Jerusalem is astounding. The east side that borders on the Judean desert has magnificent open views of the arrid slopes going down to the Deas Sea, the lowest spot on earth. The western parts of Jerusalem are much greener, with some forestation and rolling hills. Going down the Judean Hills towards the sea, there is lots of terraced agriculture, including ever-increasing plantations of grapevines for making wine.

The city itself, which is both big and small, now has some 850,000 inhabitants and is the largest municipal authority in Israel. At the same time as being the seat of all government and administration, it also has the feel of a smaller place, or a city from times past. Jerusalem is beautiful, and in equal meassure, complicated. If you are looking for polarities, it doesn’t get any better. There is high-tech and traditional, Moslem and Jews, rich and poor, secular and religious, particular and universal. You get the picture. Culturally and racially we are as diverse as can be. Today I saw a black (Afro-American) black-hat (Ultra-Orthodox Jew) in the vegetable market.

How old is the city you live in? My Jerusalem was founded way back in the Bronze Age, some 5000 years ago, making it one of the oldest cities in the world.  Anyone in the construction business in Jerusalem, from architects to road maintenance workers, knows this. Start digging anywhere and you are very likely to find yourself on top of some important archeological site. All you wanted was to bury some optical cables, but you find yourself excavating an ancient olive-press or worse, a cemetery. Frustrating, yes, exhilarating, yes.  As a matter of fact, the Antiquities Authority needs to accompany ANY kind of digging in the Holy City. Different people can have different reasons to try to cover up archeological findings.Some exampels;  If you are Moslem, you may not want to find evidence of an early Jewish presence. If you are in a hurry, you may not want others to know that you just uncovered new evidence of a sect from the time of Jesus. If you are marketing a housing complex, finding a three thousand year old housing complex underneath the spot you intended to build on is not good news.

What is it like to live in Jerusalem, a city of such great religious and historical significance? The truth is that none of that matters very much in everyday life. As I go about my business, I wonder if I’ll find parking if I take the car downtown, if the new road to the shoppingmall was opened. I think about garbage collection and recycling stations and the educational system. I think about how rude and Mediterranean many people are and on the other hand how compasionate and helpful. I don’t think about the history of the holy places of the tree monotheistic religions or why the Romans tried to change Jerusalems name to Iliya Capitolina. On a daily basis, I bless this safe little city where my children can walk around at night, and I curse some people’s inability to get beyond tribal thinking. At times, I do have to think in terms of safety and terrorism but much less often than I think of the dangers of urban traffic.  What preoccupies me is if the city is well run, and should I vote for the mayor in the upcoming elections? I don’t envy him it must be one hell of a complicated place to run.

jerusalem-day-celebration-in-israelYesterday we celebrated Jerusalem Day, the day in which East and West Jerusalem were united. From the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 until the Six Day War in 1967, East Jerusalem was occupied by Jordan. To Jews, the unification of the city is a cause for celebration. Under Jordanian rule, Jews were not allowed to visit East Jerusalem with the Western Wall and other remnants of places that are holy according to our tradition. Israel certainly treats its minorities better than that, but for our Moslem population, what Jews consider liberation, they consider occupation.

The name Jerusalem is usually interpreted as “City of Peace”. JeruSalem = shalom, well you can see the connection. Three thousand years ago, King David wrote a psalm about love, peace and Jerusalem. I guess this has never been an easy city. But it’s a city worthy of psalms and one day we’ll be able to make room for all. Not just we for them or them for us, but both. For the sake of my brothers and my friends.

Noomi Stahl