Saturday, July 5, 2014

(I apologize in advance to everyone else’s parents for reading this and wondering what on earth their own kids were up to today. I had planned to write about a group outing to David’s Citadel but it was postponed. Many of them spent a good chunk of the day catching up on sleep, anyway ☺).

Today was the Sabbath and a “free” day. I am on class journal duty, so I brought a notebook and pen wherever I went to ensure I was recording thoughts and observations in as live of a manner as possible. Due to the fact that nothing is open today, I decided to “park hop” and enjoy Jerusalem’s natural beauty to the fullest extent possible. The exposure I get to an unknown place simply by walking its streets and absorbing everything around me is a far better way for me to become acquainted with it than a formal tour.
I began writing as I was seated comfortably in the sun (don’t worry, mom, I was wearing sunscreen), in one of Jerusalem’s many parks. I am someone who thrives off of outdoor activity and thus I’ve really taken kindly to the plethora of parks here. One of the things I’ve noticed through these outdoor excursions thus far is the eclectic feel of Jerusalem’s landscape (I have not yet visited other parts of Israel and thus can’t speak for the whole country yet). There is not much coherency; the vegetation is scattered around in various shapes, sizes, textures, and shades of green, and even the slightest degree change of a panoramic view yields a vastly different image; one angle of Old Jerusalem shows desert land while another depicts the lush greenery of the area.
One of our maps has a quote from Ze’ev Vilnai in which he says, “I believe there is no better way to feel the connection to Eretz Yisrael than to walk its length and breadth (…) Only when you walk the expanse of land by foot (…) only then can you feel the real connection to the Land of Israel.” I have experienced firsthand the truth in this and really share this sentiment; simply walking the land welds an intimacy of sorts between oneself and the soil that can only be achieved in this manner. It’s difficult to fully grasp the immense and complex web of history, conflict, and blood spilled over this ground on which we all currently stand. Whether it’s being learned in a classroom, on the news, or from the Bible, there is a certain disconnect between these things and actually being there to witness them. Now that I stand here, however, I see what I do in any other city: People living their lives. All day long, I’ve observed Israeli families in busy parks, on streets, and in calm residential areas enjoying the Sabbath without a trace of concern on their faces. I have no doubt that many are wary about their country’s uncertain future but it does not keep them from leading lives that appear “normal” from an outsider’s perspective. Even in the wake of the recent tragedies here, I look for but sense no tension in the air; the only physical symbol is a small candle vigil on Ben Yehud Street. That lead me to wondering, What does tension look like, anyway?
I look to other sensory forms for answers. Sound. All I’ve heard, however, is the usual buzz of a city, the relaxed conversations of families enjoying the Sabbath, and the rhythmic interaction of three different religious traditions within the gates of Old Jerusalem- the cheers of a Bat Mitzvah, church bells, and a mosque’s call to prayer (Adhan)- that gave no indication of strife either. The sights and sounds of the open markets did not reveal much either. It was not until after I wrote this earlier today that I went back and was made aware of all the rioting going on in Arab towns in Israel; this was a sobering reminder of the importance of taking a step back and keeping up with the news.
In the evening we had an informal discussion of the Gospel of Matthew as a precursor to our tour of the Christian part of Old Jerusalem tomorrow. I am really grateful we had this session, because it is sometimes so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of a tour and forget to fully appreciate and take in the profound history of the ground you are standing on. Professor Lefkovitz did a really nice job of leading the lesson and discussion of the life of Jesus. We discussed the way the New Testament echoes the Old Testament, and that for Christians, the life of Jesus “recapitulates- repeats and improves- Hebrew scripture” through the fulfillment of its prophesies. All that is physical in Judaism becomes spiritual in Christianity.
She also reinforced convictions regarding the power of the story and the way we think about things having life or death consequences. These concepts are all too applicable to the current state of Israel.

-Alexandra Quinn

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