"Living in History." This was the first piece in my 2006-2007 year-long column about living in Israel that was published in The Jewish Community Chronicle of the Jewish Federation of Greater Long Beach and West Orange County.
Living In History
To live in Jerusalem is to constantly float between two worlds. On one hand, I am firmly anchored in the present. I drink hot chocolate at a café and connect my laptop to a wireless internet network. I bypass a pothole in the street on my way to school, pet the stray cat who likes to hang out in my building, and am concerned about my grade on the upcoming Hebrew test.
Yet, at the same time, life is indelibly marked by the past. While late for meeting a friend, I rush and trip over a jutting piece of stone in the Jewish Quarter; then I stop and realize that Hillel or Shammai could have tripped over it too. I am too tired to make dinner and so order pizza for delivery; I am taken aback when it is accompanied not by a Papa John’s garlic-type sauce, but by a spice packet of “zatar,” or “hyssop” in English, the very same spice with which David is purged and cleansed in Psalm 51. Arriving home after a long day, I complain that my feet are filthy after walking around in sandals. Then I wonder, how many generations of women have had this same complaint?
It is easily apparent why Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion requires its first-year students to live here, and not in Tel Aviv or Beersheva. While all Israel is rooted in history, it is only in Jerusalem that I can traverse the centuries in a matter of minutes, and pass fourteen historical sites on the way to buying my vegetables at the open-air market. Nowhere else in the world can I view the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Israel Museum in the morning, wander through the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in the afternoon, and attend the opening ceremonies of International Gay Pride week in the evening.
Jerusalem is a phoenix. It is unique in that it has been beaten, broken, and reborn time and time again. It resounds simultaneously with the lamenting of the Biblical prophets and the laughter of today’s children. It wails with the heartbreak of those sent into exile, and rejoices with those who today call the city their home. The balance of the old and new is not one that is delicately maintained, but it is carelessly juxtaposed, with ancient and modern colliding daily in surprising, wondrous ways. Though I have only lived here for two months, I feel extremely fortunate to call this land of living, breathing history my own. I hope that all of Israel will soon find peace, and that you, too, will have the opportunity to visit and to walk to the grocery store alongside the sages of old.