24 February 2012

Build Peace Not Temples

I have a friend who often accuses me of drifting away in the middle of conversations, off and running to some other corner of the room by another thought, a bird call out the window, an old book in need of having its spine cracked.

Such is the way it's always been and so recently while walking around the City of David with our tour guide, the muezzins in the Silwan opened up there afternoon prayer and the sound, rolling over the ancient stones of David's city and the century old homes of the Silwan, drew me toward them.  A siren's call, pulling Odysseus into the rocks?  I think not.  Rather, the contemplation of a missed opportunity to make peace.

Earlier in the walk, as it began, our guide had apologized for the sounds of prayer and for smoke coming from a Palestinian woman's backyard fire, where she prepared a pot of okra and zucchini for lunch.  Rather than lament the *distractions* I felt our guide had a chance to celebrate Jerusalem's complex and multi-layered love affair with God and Tradition.  Alas, it wasn't to be.  One man's call is another man's finger in the eye of beholding the heavenly throne.  And this troubling conflict is layered, yet again, with the sediment of dissension.

Earlier in the week, as we had walked around the Old City, we came upon several groups of Jewish schoolchildren in the Jewish Quarter, where they had gathered for a celebration to mark the receipt of Bibles from the teachers.  It was a coming-of-age moment in the pedagogy that we celebrate ourselves with our students at the synagogue in Brooklyn.  The conveyance of the Book to a younger generation is the fiber of our continuity musculature.  We need it in order to stand up straight.  Without this animating narrative, its ancient language, and the land in which it came to be--however we understand its words and meanings--there is little that binds us save the attenuating strands of a fading DNA.

The Book itself has a set text; its meanings remain fluid, depending upon whose hands the Book comes to rest.  Walking through the Jewish Quarter with the young children near our group, we took turns at various sites, we listening to our guide and they and their parents listening to theirs.  A mosaic of interpretations befitting an ancient, walled city.  Complex in its orientation.

When we came upon the Golden Menorah that stood for many years in the Cardo, away from the Western Wall Plaza, but now was perched in imposing, symbolic aspiration, directly across from the Golden Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, narratives not only differed but radically departed one from the other.

The school teacher drew himself close to the Menorah and spoke about the 1st Temple, the 2nd Temple and the 3rd Temple, creating an impassioned portrait of the will of God, bringing back to Jerusalem an ancient mode of worship that will include animal sacrifice to the Temple Mount.  What will happen to the al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock were questions not asked.  The children were drawn into the labyrinthian journey of a dream.

The intent of the Menorah's placement was made clear, not only by the teacher but by the plaque which adorns it.
"Showboat is coming," I said under my breath, drifting off in the presentation, as is my want.

Last week the Israeli police arrested a band of thugs from the Temple Mount Faithful, Jews who work to bring about the Age of the Messiah and the Third Temple.  Varieties of these guys have been arrested for various schemes to blow up the Muslim sites on the Temple Mount and on various occasions throughout the year, they will stage protests in the Old City for their right to ascend the Mount.  They know, full-well, that their presence will provoke protests from Muslims who will show up en masse to counter-protest.  Rocks and tear gas canisters will be thrown; arrests will be made.  Chaos will ensue.  Skeptics of religion and its dangerously insidious narratives of conquering one or another in the name of God, Jesus and Allah will roll their eyes.  The hard work of tolerant and tolerating believers like ourselves will be set back in time.  Everyone will re-group.  The day will dawn again.

The Jerusalem Post reported on such clashes earlier in the week and then today the Israeli police had to deal with clashes from the other side, as reported in Haaretz.   It was heartening to know that from the Israeli side, police arrested several potential Jewish provocateurs who were ready to do damage.  More such arrests ought to follow so that at all times possible, Israel can proudly live by its stated democratic promise to keep worship sites free of conflict.

Further, moderate believers need to be strengthened in their resolve that a holy city loved by billions of all faiths has more to teach us about what we share in our faith than to blood ourselves over and over again with the obscurantist, messianic delusions of those who ignore history's great folly:  those who kill in the name of God never win.

The great victory will come, to paraphrase Amichai in "Tourists," when the Jewish guide pauses his narrative about ancient Jewish stones to appreciate the call to heaven from his Muslim neighbor, in his quaint and crowded community across the valley.  

May it not be the Third Temple but Peace, speedily built, once and for all, in our day.

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