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City of stones,  hearts and dreamers...

13/05/2021 11:00:06 AM


There is no place quite like it – city of dreamers and schemers, pivot of our prayers, fulcrum of our faith, locus of our longings. Jerusalem!

It is a city that has seen too much, it is a city that we Jews can’t seem to get enough of. There are cities that I call home or at least feel so much at home in: the city of my upbringing, Egoli, city of gold, Johannesburg. The city where we raised our young family, city of sails, Auckland. And of course, our wonderful, liveable Melbourne.

But there is only one city that always creeps into my heart, seeps into my soul. One city that’s speaks to my heart, drives my dreams, packs my prayers. Our sages describe a heavenly Jerusalem that matches the earthly one. But I think there is another Jerusalem, an interior one that lives within every Jew. Sometimes it lies dormant waiting for its moment to take your breath away.

I have visited Jerusalem countless times, studied courses and attended conferences there, learnt at Yeshiva there, taken Australian groups to the city. I love its cobblestones, its holy places saturated with spirituality. I love its contemporary buildings, the soaring Supreme Court, the Begin Museum and the new- old Jewish Quarter. The Israel Museum is one of my favourite spots and I can't get enough of those alluring Dead Sea Scrolls. I'm crazy about its edgy religious communities and zany Shabbat services. And Yad Vashem grips my heart every time I visit.

There’s one thing I can’t get enough of in Jerusalem – it’s golden, honey-coloured stones. I can just stand all day and stare at the walls of the old city; walking them transports me into a different zone. The huge boulders near Robinsons Arch and close to the Kotel speak of the pain of the Second Temple destruction as do the scattered and broken stones in the tunnels and excavations around the Old City. On one visit I noticed a pile of old stones; looking closer I noticed each one was numbered. I asked for an explanation and was told every ancient pebble and piece of masonry in the city was lovingly labelled and recorded .These aren’t just a heap of old, useless shards but reminders and symbols. I recalled the words of our favourite Biblical commentator, Rashi at the beginning of this week’s parasha (Numbers 1;1). God, he said, counts the Jewish people frequently, “at every hour”, because of His love for them; they are like precious gemstones. And I’m pretty sure God regularly counts the stones of his beloved city...

The renowned Rabbi Kook used to lament that there are people whose hearts are cold and stony, but then he would add that there are stones that are warm and full of heart. Such are the boulders of the Kotel, the Western Wall standing so solitary in the city. Poet Laureate of the city, Yehuda Amichai writes, “Jerusalem stone is the only stone that can feel pain. It has a network of nerves”.

In his poem Jerusalem 1967 Amichai notes within sadness that this unique city, meeting place of the worlds three great monotheistic religions is often a flashpoint of violence: “From time-to-time Jerusalem crowds into mass protests... houses are razed, walls flattened… sporadic screams from churches and synagogues and loud moaning mosques. Each to his own place.”

As I write we are witnessing such a time and the city of peace that connects and unites is experiencing brokenness, fear and separation, threats of war, screams and moaning. Stones are being hurled to wound and kill. Much of the country is under rocket fire, people in bomb shelters and sealed rooms and too many lives are being lost on all sides. Daniel Gordis writes from Jerusalem: “Many of us fell asleep last night to the endless shriek of sirens, and its likely well be hearing sirens for days to come.” And as always, it seems that Israel, while certainly not perfect, is judged more harshly than an enemy raining down more than a thousand rockets on its civilian centres.
And so just a few days since Yom Yerushalayim we need to urgently pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for the softening of hard hearts locked in politics and anger, chauvinism and stubbornness. To hope that each side will find a way of moving from the exclusivity of my space to the respect for your space and where possible to the inclusivity of our space.

Let's also draw strength from the city itself. This city has seen fire and fear on its Holy Temple Mount before. But this time says Gordis “'these flames don't mean we are about to lose our sovereignty... there will be some bad days here but there will not be a bad end”. And so let's pray on this Shabbat and festival of Shavuot for a swift and peaceful resolution... let it end with the promise of the book of Ruth, that we will read on the chag - chesed and compassion and  anticipation of the birth of King David who would establish Jerusalem as the eternal city of peace and hope.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach 

Wed, 20 October 2021 14 Cheshvan 5782