To love is to accept complexity and paradox, and so, yet again, I write another letter to Jerusalem upon leaving.
To a greater and greater degree with each visit, my heart weighs heavier and heavier, preparing for a return to Brooklyn. Wisconsin raised me, Jerusalem made me, Brooklyn is where I live. So I remain, ensnared, in a long chain of tradition of those who live both here and there, trapped in the ambiguities of life's complexity. No place is perfect, but you, fair one, are the least imperfect of them all.
I read this week on line that a new restaurant opened on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope and it serves Elk Sandwiches. Neighbors are arguing over bike lanes and hummus. And Andrew Dice Clay has risen from the dead to perform in Coney Island. The government to which I pay taxes can only make ends meet but cutting funding to the least fortunate in our society while continuing to reward the rich with low taxes and what constitutes leadership points hay-filled arms of atrophied blame of one to the other like the Scarecrow giving directions in the Land of Oz.
You, Jerusalem, seem to be preparing for a new day. There is a calm to your face, a structured acceptance of some great challenges ahead, projecting a kind of giddy optimism that come what may, you'll emerge whole. I walked today past two sites on Emek Refaim where terrorists blew themselves up, taking innocent lives with them, and as I read the dates, could not help but think of those countless lives that have been lost so that not only one but two nations may declare themselves to exist within the borders of your very being.
It's extraordinary how empowering it is to see a people declare itself a nation, to see its heart swell with pride, its head raised in confidence, its shoulders straighten to face the opposition, come what may. When Palestinian leadership finally decided to stop blowing themselves up and shedding innocent blood and instead organized, marched, moderated, and built a civil infrastructure in fragile partnership with their neighbors, the world finally began to get in line. Just a few minutes before, I stopped while walking on King David Street to read the dedicatory plaque commemorating the spot where the Irgun killed 92 people at the King David Hotel, a British Mandate Headquarters, in 1946. Just as the Zionists eventually split in a debate over tactics, one wonders if we're finally seeing a similar strategy being employed by Palestinians.
I waited all summer long for Prime Minister Netanyahu to come up with a plan for dealing with the Palestinians plan to declare a state at the United Nations in September. And to the best of my knowledge, the plan does not exist. More than 140 nations are in favor and the only impediment to statehood will be the organized the resistance in the U.N. Security Council, making the gesture initially symbolic but ultimately, a fait accompli.
Dumbfounded over the seeming lack of direction from the government, your citizens have taken to the streets to express their anger and dismay at the horrid economic conditions of the majority, struggling to make ends meet. In classic fashion, we may find the wheels of democracy spinning and whirring in such a manner as to wield peace as a by-product of the necessity to make life livable. In politics, as in love, fair one, there is self-interest.
I walked your streets at all hours of the night, counting your stairs, singing you to sleep and gently waking you with the birds at sunrise. Your jasmine blossom and bougainvillea seduced me into mad, delusional epic monologues, recited while sitting in parks, narrating street names, re-tracing battle steps for control over your borders, praying under trees, kicking stones down abandoned streets, peeking into windows to see rooms lit with light from the Roman, Ottoman, British periods. Sun-baked hands and dried, cracked lips of your poor begged for money and bread; cab drivers yelled and others cajoled; a local homeless man, insane and unhinged, wished me endless blessings when the new moon arrived. Older friends have more gray hair; others have triumphed over cancer; and a few have quietly, and humbly, been laid to rest. I drank your wine from the Galilee, beer from the Golan, and whenever possible, your impossibly sweet dairy and perfect melon left me sated, speechless, and then inspired to offer you words of blessing.
I love you.
I love your hard consonants and your penetrating vowels; your rusted gates and your ripening pomegranates; your winding, black roads and your blinding, dolomitic limestone. I love the way you smother me all day with your impossible insistence, your debilitating heat, and then, like that, the way you walk into the room when the sun goes down, carrying an old-new wind from the Judean Hills that revives me, resurrects me, and lovingly, lays me down to sleep to dream of you all night long.
"A land so great and has so many roads
We meet for a moment, separate forever
A man asks but his legs fail
He can never find that which he has lost."
So wrote the Hebrew poet Rachel Bluwstein in her tragic sadness.
But you, Jerusalem, are always here. You let me keep finding you!