As you are reading this, I am spending Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, in one of my favorite places, Jerusalem. To be precise, I am most probably in West Jerusalem. The streets are virtually vehicle-free, leaving one the unique freedom to stroll the avenues and byways in a leisurely manner and without fear of traffic. If you were there, you would see men, women (many with baby carriages followed by a number of children), the old and the young walking to and from Shabbat prayers. Even though the religiously observant are a minority, you would see others, perhaps making weekly visits to relatives and friends, relaxing in the park or just out to enjoy the calm. Truly, on Friday night and Saturday, Jerusalem lives up to the true meaning of its name; the City of Peace. For me, it is a "sacred" space.
Then there is the reality. Jerusalem is also home to residents devoted to the faith of Islam as well as both Arab and Christian Palestinians. Each faith has its "sacred" spaces. Whether it be the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or the Kotel HaMa-arivi (Western Wall), Jerusalemites each claim portions of the city as their own. And of course, there lies the rub! Who will "control" Jerusalem remains a central question in the seemingly unsolvable quest for peace in this region.
Recently, our government made the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from its previous location in Tel Aviv. Advocates for that move argue that it only makes sense to have an embassy in a capital city. Equally, there are those who contend that such a move does nothing to advance the cause of a peaceful solution to the issue of Jerusalem.
Last year, at the time of this decision, I was asked to make a public statement. My response was simple: The decision to move the embassy was made in the realm of politics. I am religious leader; I am not a politician. In Jewish tradition, there is a differentiation made between the earthly Jerusalem, and "Yerushalayim shel Ma'alah" or the "heavenly" Jerusalem. The former refers to the real city, with all of its complexities and conflicts. The latter is a term that represents the object of years of longing. That yearning, for a "rebuilt" Jerusalem, was far more than a desire to return to that earthly place. For the Jew, a "rebuilt" Jerusalem meant a striving for a perfected world -- a world where conflict and bloodshed had no place.
Central to the Jewish idea of the Sabbath is that it is a sacred time, a foretaste of that perfected world. To get that taste in the place where it is supposed to occur is to experience the potential of encountering the divine in this real world.
Samuel Radwine is the cantor for Congregation Etz Chaim in Bentonville and cantor emeritus of Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NAN Religion on 06/29/2019
Print Headline: Jerusalem: Real World, Perfect One