31 July 2011

A Song to Sing

notes tucked into a crack in the Western Wall Tunnels
We took the Fellows into the Old City today--one last time--for a tour of the Western Wall Tunnels, an interesting if flawed ideological journey into the weird melding of nationalism, delusional Third Temple politics, state funded archaeological research and private foundation support for control of the narrative from two thousand years ago.

I start from the premise that one of the most idiotic, inflammatory, and anti-intellectual things the Palestinian leadership has consistently done is deny a Jewish claim to ancient Jerusalem.  Despite continued evidence to the contrary, one can consistently find the claim that a Jewish hold on this holy city is a Zionist and colonial fabrication at best or worse, a Zionist and colonial fabrication.  A real win-win.  Not.

Archaeological evidence around the Temple Mount, uncovered daily in Jerusalem, quickens the heart of anyone who cares about history--especially ancient history--if for no other reason than the fact that it's endlessly fascinating.  What these discoveries reveal about the formation of ancient cultures, language, customs, food, economics, politics and history! history! history! is in large measure what the Zionist project is all about--a return to the historical stage for the Jewish people after being without a land of their own, at the whim and by the good graces of other nations.  The project of unearthing who we once were, with whom we interacted, with whom we lived, and even those who dominated and then expelled us from this land--this project of unearthing it all for the sake of merely understanding where we've been and where we might be going is an exercise every nation ought to have a right to practice.

As a city of layers, Jerusalem is a stony record of destruction piled upon destruction; the art and science of archaeology is expressed in striking a balance between what can be excavated and what ought to be left alone for another day.  Jews uncovering graves of Jews, thereby risking desecration of the peaceful sleep of the dead, can cause riots as quickly as Jews digging beneath the Temple Mount, empty of the 2nd Temple and now the repose of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque.  It's always a delicate balance in this town.

But when the people paying for the excavations and leading the tours of the tunnels are forever reminding you of the Temple and turning your heart and attention to the prayers to build a Third Temple are really just carrying out a kind of religio-emotional manipulation; and, they parade before you the crying ladies who sit underground, weeping and reciting Psalms *directly* in front of the spot where we estimate is just below the place where the Holy of Holies--the place of sacrifice and therefore religiously and doctrinally for Temple Era Jews the place of God's very existence on Earth--this place--why, when you hear that, you are in the throes of major demagoguery.  You are the product of a whipping up of the masses of tourists to these sites with an idea hoisted upon us unwillingly but now willingly embraced by the Jews around the world if they would un-suspend their judgement and consider ideas of verifiable truth for one brief moment:  in losing the Temple two thousand years ago, we lost the ability to slaughter animals as a form of worship.  Replaced, paradoxically and tragically, thank God, by prayers and study and the performance of mitzvot.  In other words, through the bitter exigencies and ironies of history, we have actually adapted and progressed.

Who wants the blood and the fire--particularly when the restaurants on Agrippas Street are so delicious *and* kosher!?

I get so cranky in these situations.  And there is so much to explain to the students.  So much nuance.  Like:  Of course we deserved to win back the Old City and of course we have to carry out the excavations because objective truth, verifiable, is historical Zionism's great liberation.  Like:  Excavations are all the more powerful in the face of Palestinian leadership's desire to deny a claim to ancient Jewish Jerusalem.  Like:  When you win a war--44 years ago--you have to choose your battles very carefully as a benevolent ruler and therefore what you dig and where you dig is as much about keeping the peace as it is about pursuing the truth--and one should always take great care in finding just the right balance between the two.  When you and your army control Jerusalem, you have to know when and where to dig; and when you have an army, and a police force, and an archaeological authority, you have to know to take great *not* to combine it with Messianic dreams, stated aloud on tourist tours like, "We pray for a Third Temple to rise on this spot."  Or, "When the High Priest returns to this spot to offer Temple Sacrifices at this holy place, he will first have to be bathed in the waters of the mikveh purified by the blood of a pure Red Heifer."  And he'd do well to say (which he never does), "Of course doing so will create World War Three and the Greatest Bloodbath Imaginable and Arguably Irredeemably Disastrous for the Jewish People and the World so we won't even consider it!"  Oh, why do we never hear that?

Kids reach forward to kiss the wall, beneath the ground, where the ladies cry.  And I want to cry:  for the poor in the land who are living in tents not only on Rothschild but in shelters and cardboard boxes.  For the South Sudanese that the Israelis are helping to construct a new economy in a new nation in Africa.  For the teachers here who are underpaid (Jewish teachers--underpaid!)  For the families that can't afford enough room to raise and feed their children. And for the hate:  for the religious who hate the secular; for the secular who hate the religious; for the men and women who hate the gays; for the Jews who hate the Palestinians and for the Palestinians who hate the Jews.  Enough already.

Alluring, I know, to ask the Messiah to make it all go away.  Like magic.

Moses, whose grave is unmarked; Moses, for whom no archaeological evidence that he ever lived exists (Freud, schmendrik, implies that he's a composite, a construct--feh!); Moses, Moshe Rabenu, Moses our Teacher, defeats the Egyptians magic with a faith in God, rooted in the Law, where God is One and the first word after the declaration of God's oneness is Love.

Love, as romantic and poetic as we understand it to be, is the opposite of magic.

Climbing up the stairs into the Jewish Quarter (plowed over by the Jordanians between 1948 and 1967) we sat for felafel in the store of a rude and inhospitable Israel restauranteur.  Just below us, at the top of stairs leading to the Kotel Plaza, cleared of homes bulldozed by Israeli authorities to make way for the crowds that would want to get close to the Holy of Holies (the original fuel on the fire of Palestinian Paranoia of a Jewish desire to replace one narrative with another) there, at the top of the stairs, sits a Golden Menorah, paid for by some rich guy, to be placed in a re-built Third Temple.

Every time I see it, I quake with fear that one day, the beauty of the Golden Dome of the Rock will be replaced by the apocalyptic Temple of the Jews.  I mean, on any given day, I can pray in countless shuls across the holy city of blessing and be reminded of all the work that remains to be done in order to bring about a better world.

And let me tell you--of all the things that will bring that day closer, several thousand dead sheep, goats, calves and pigeons always show up at the bottom of the list of efficacious fuel for world redemption. 

But you and me together, digging through the dirt of our narratives, sharing our stories in the redeeming shade, a protection from the hot, flaming sun of purity and religious truth--now that's a song to sing.

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