TBT: Sukkot In Jerusalem
Sukkot, the fest of the tabernacles. Here we are again! For me this holiday holds special meaning in my memory. In 2013, I traveled to Israel to reconnect to my Jewish heritage.
Now, we all hear news of Palestinian attacks, Hamas militants, Palestinian Authority, the riots and rock throwers…It’s another story to come so close Palestinian territories through these check points. To see how similar Palestinians look to Israelis. Two Levantine people, separated by religion, by politics, by national loyalties, by fences and people with guns.
In the holy land, one can find sacred sites on nearly every corner. Every stone, every street… it wouldn’t surprise me if people feel every rock on the ground is sacred, every olive tree as holy. Israelis, Palestinians – Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim a connection here. From birth to death, this land is theirs in their hearts.
These graves are some of the most prized possession of Jews, Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem. Here they await the coming or Second Coming if you’re Muslim and Christian of the Messiah which these dead would be resurrected. Death, the great equalizer of us all; corpses claim no faith nor do passports matter to them. As Plato said “Only the dead have seen the end of war” while the living would still fight over these plots where they lay.
The contentious Temple Mount, perhaps the most sought after real estate on this planet. Here is the site where the Temple of Solomon and Herod once stood until its destruction by the Romans who eventually became Christians. Here is the site where Muslims believe Prophet Muhammad ascended into Heaven on the back of the Buraq; where Abd al-Malik’s Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque lies today.
There are approximately 2 billion Christians, 1.5 billion Muslims, and only 17 million Jews. Out of the 7 billion humans on this planet, nearly half of every person claim this site as spiritually theirs. This land that the zealots, the ghazis, and the crusaders fought over is still inspiring violence. Jerusalem even has its own mental disorder named after it. This tiny nation of 20770 km2 inspire much hope, strengthens belief as it unites half of the world. But it is also a place that inspires much bloodshed and hatred as it divides half of the planet into warring factions.
Even as I know this place creates such contention, I entered through the gates and touched the Mezuzah; it is strange when a Jew goes to Jerusalem… there’s a sense of belonging, of home. It’s a place I’ve only heard about, and seen on media. Yet, as I utter the prayers, walk on its streets, and touch its stones… It was home. Even if it’s a home that I don’t want to live in. A place where I feel alienated from yet felt so familiar.
Here I saw every denomination of Jews – Masorti, Hasidim, Litvak, Reform and even some secular, all celebrating Sukkot at the Kotel. This place both unites and divides the Jews. Some wants to see it egalitarian, others wants the Orthodox establishment bar the “heretics.” Yet even as the shouting matches continue there is also unity: Chabad rabbis helped secular Jews with prayers they’ve never uttered; IDF soldiers protected the staunchly anti-Zionist haredim while they pray; Reform Jews prayed next to Hasidim even as they used different siddurim. All the while, a Catholic priest caressed the Wall and give his prayer to G-d. This small square and a 2000 year old wall, both restricted and free, unifies Jews and non-Jews, and divide and unifies Jews themselves.
Whatever one’s view of the wall is, I knew that even the atheist Moshe Dayan wrote a prayer when he reached the Kotel in ’67. Therefore I will do this also. I had hopes, dreams, and requests from friends that I must pass on. I had wrote their prayer requests on papers, and I had but wrote one word for my own prayer. “Love.”
I am not sure if I can intellectually believe a G-d that answers prayers. But as I stood under my own chupah in November 2016 with my love whom is beyond what my wildest 2013 imagination… I do wonder if prayers could be answered.
A journalist once asked Elie Wiesel where is home as he knew that he divides his time between Paris, New York and Connecticut, he responded: “Jerusalem, when I’m not there.”