Jerusalem is a city of gold – a city of light and hope. It is the city where peoples and times come together: sometimes in peace and goodwill, at other times, in collision.
this is a season where time seems to overlap both historically and spiritually for people of Jewish and Christian faiths. We left our home, family, and friends and moved to Israel in the days between the Jewish festivals of Purim and Passover. It marks a time of preparation, a time of cleaning. Everyone, from the more secular to the extremely religious are spring cleaning and purging their homes of all foods with leaven, all foods which can be puffed up or risen. Inwardly, it’s supposed to be a time of introspection – one of the two times of year when a “cheshbon ha nefesh” or accounting of the soul is made. Anything bad – in thoughts , words, or actions – must be gotten rid of. In the days just prior to Passover, the most devout make mikveh, a private ritual cleansing bath. Bible reading and good deeds are more than encouraged.
For the Catholics, this is the Great Season of Lent -also a time of fasting and penitence. It is a soul searching time, and also a time of Scripture reading and alms giving. I love it when both faith traditions come together like this, for it can also be a tremendous opportunity for dialogue, understanding, and ecumenism.
In this spirit, we decided we would spend the Great Sabbath (Shabbat Gadol) before Pesach and Palm Sunday in Jerusalem. We would meet friends there( one from whom we would get keys to her apartment to spend the Holy Week while she traveled to her family back in California). John, Max, and I met at a small Hebrew speaking community center where I had friends. From there we would travel deep into East Jerusalem – Palestinian Muslim territory. It was a place where any other time , I’d dare not go, but security was tight and we would be with a large international community of different faiths: mostly Catholic, but also other Christian denominations as well as Jews and Muslims.
Despite the festive atmosphere with many people waving lulavim – branches of Palm, olive, willow, and myrtle, sometimes single branches, others woven basket-like into beautifully intricate patterns – there was a palpable tension in the air. This was the route Jesus was said to have taken on his final entry and last week of his life, into the Holy City. At this point in history, he was welcomed as king. Within the week, many of those that welcomed him would turn on him, which would eventually lead to his crucifixion. Lots of mixed emotions. Also, There was also the inescapable fact, that despite the coming together of different peoples, cultures, and races, we were behind high fences and barbed razor wire for much of the walk. Would these young men selling bottles of water to the passers-by be throwing rocks (or something else much worse) in the days to come???
We were with an Israeli group, but were part of a vast crowd from all over the world. It was so much fun, and so interesting, to see people from both North and South America as well as Asians (Koreans, Japanese, Phillipino) and Africans (Nigerians, Ethiopians, Morroccans) and People from throughout Europe. I was speaking fluently in English and French, and held my own ground in Hebrew, but after a while the different languages were all ‘fighting inside my head,’ and that was a different kind of tension. Our group, led by my friend, Reb Benny, were singing songs of parve