Sunday, January 29, 2012

Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem [Psalm 122:2]

My feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
…Wow. It’s incredible to be here, and I am so excited for the semester ahead!

The university is located just outside the Old City, a walled enclosure of some of the most ancient areas left of Jerusalem – this includes the Temple Mount with the Western Wailing Wall (the only wall of the Temple’s platform left standing when the Romans sacked the city in A.D. 70) as well as the Muslim Dome of the Rock. JUC [Jerusalem University College] is just a few minutes’ walk from Jaffa Gate, a western gate into the old city that guides us just between the Christian and Armenian quarters as we enter. From my bedroom window I can see a portion of the skyline of the new city – the more developed, modern part of Jerusalem. The lights are beautiful at night, and as I looked out this morning I could see the warm sunlight painting the sides of the buildings from the east as the sun rose. 

It is difficult to comprehend being in this place, because the land holds so much history, some of which has “carried on” through continuity in language and culture, but much of which is hidden by layers of historical phases and the face of modern culture. Flying into Tel Aviv was my first experience with trying to wrap my mind around being here…

As we descended through the misty clouds (it is rainy season in Israel), I scanned the window across the aisle, searching for any signs of the land below. I closed my eyes momentarily, and the next time I opened them, there it was below: the modern city of Tel Aviv. In biblical times, this was Joppa, a port city along the coast. So many international traders, travel parties, and military excursions passed through this area, but not in the form of the city that I saw below. This city was new, sprawling, and extensive; as I surveyed the ground which rose so quickly to meet us as we descended, I tried to envision the land as it once was. Much was left to imagination.

I thought about the selection of reading I’d done that day – during my time here, I am reading Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath. Heschel was a 20th century Jewish scholar and writer, and though his native language is not English, his essays and books flow like poetry. In his first chapter, “Architecture of Time,” Heschel comments on the relationship between humanity’s treatment of space and time: humanity, he says, has enhanced its power in the world primarily through the spatial realm, and since we don’t have as firm a hold on the nature of time (abstract, eternal, and fleeting all at once!), we don’t know how to acknowledge or handle it. “We must not forget,” Heschel writes, “that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.”

I thought about this in light of Tel Aviv, and in light of the land that lay sprawled around me as the plane touched ground. It was comforting to be reminded that I don’t have to depend on space alone to offer significance – I didn’t have to feel something transformational or life-changing as soon as I had my first glimpse of the land, because the things of the land – buildings, borders, markers – have changed incredibly over the years. It is not that the space doesn’t have significance – it does, but because of moments of history that remain eternal despite the shifting nature of the spatial realm. In this way, as much as space holds significance – and it does – significance is ultimately something we must carry in our hearts. The rocks and buildings won’t recall all of their history; it is up to us to remember the significance that comes with time, and, I think, to be transmitters of that.

P.S. Photos will be posted soon if/when possible! Uploading pictures has proven to be a slow (and potentially undependable!) process so far… 

No comments:

Post a Comment