I am a “biblical Zionist romantic”, a term I read on a museum wall exhibit-caption.
In the 2nd Century BC, the Israelites, lead by Matathias, Judah and their Maccabees, launched a revolt against their idolatrous Greek oppressors. Their successful military campaign, is the basis of the Hanukah story. The Maccabees went on to found the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled Judea for two centuries.
The Maccabees came from the town of Modiin. Between 1948 and 1967, the area was a rubble strewn wasteland. Construction of a new city began in the late 1990’s, applying the most modern concepts in rational urban planning, with careful attention to greenspace and controlled traffic flow. ( Coincidentally, one of my patients is a retired professor of urban planning who consulted on the project.) My daughter Alyssa and her family live in one of the high-rise towers in the center of town, walking distance to the mall and high-speed train station. Debbie and I were lucky to find a one month rental in the building next to Alyssa’s.
Lying approximately half-way between the 2 cities, Modiin has easy access to the historic/religious/spiritual/political capital of Jerusalem and its antipodal counterpart, the edgy, cosmopolitan economic capital of Tel-Aviv. High in the Judean Hills, Jerusalem’s streets are lined with limestone buildings, pale European Jews, dark Middle-Eastern Jews, black-and-white attired Haredi Jews, Arabs, Christian Monks and armed soldiers. Low by the Mediterranean, Tel-Aviv’s famous early 20th Century Bauhaus buildings (designed by German refugee architects) are complemented by post-modern skyscrapers. Its avenues are populated by artists , hipsters , and secular bourgeoise high-tech workers. Wall murals/body art, sculptures/piercing everywhere you look. Depending on our mood, we alternate our night-time leisure hours between the 2 cities at opposite ends of Highway 1.
Open Google Maps on a touch screen, then spread your fingers on the map of Israel. Two thin lines mark the 1948-1967 Jordanian border north of Modiin. Move your finger and note that the nearly parallel lines converge in some places to a single border, the often cited “Green Line”, and diverge in other places to delineate a patch of (former) “No Man’s Land”. The lines begin in the northern Galillee region and squiggle downwards to the Judean Desert south of Jerusalem. Modiin proper lies completely on the Israeli side of the border. Its smaller sister-city, Maccabim, is entirely within the old No Man’s Land. Across the Green Line is the upscale, lushly landscaped settlement of Hashmonaim. Unlike its mixed secular-religious neighbors, Hashmonaim’s residents are all orthodox Jews, including many immigrants from the NY metropolitan area. Its security gate is closed for the 25 hours of Sabbath. Hard to imagine what Judah and Matathias would think of all these nuanced distinctions.
We are magnetically drawn to varying locations in No Man’s Land. Alyssa’s in-laws have a place in Abu Tor, one of the few mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem, just south of the old city. Overlooking the picturesque Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion, their apartment on Ein Rogel Street (named for the nearby site of king Solomon’s coronation) is in a row of buildings constructed after 1967 in No Man’s Land. Just north of the old city, local legend has it that in the 1960’s, a nun residing in the Notre Dame Monastery on the border accidentally dropped her dentures out her window into the bushes of No Man’s Land. The UN arranged for Israeli and Jordanian border troops to temporarily “stand down” while the teeth were retrieved.
One Friday morning, we toured the western shore of the Sea of Galillee. Jesus lived and preached in the fishing village of Capernaum, where a massive 4th century synagogue stands at a site which may have housed his synagogue in the first century. At the edge of Capernaum, a Greek Orthodox sect built the multi-domed Monastery of the 12 Apostles in 1925. This beautiful Byzantine-style structure was left empty and inaccessible between 1948 and 1967, as it too lay in No Man’s Land.
The object of my biblical Zionist romantic attention is of course, the land of Israel. This love is shared by the majority of the Zionist, post-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jews I have met during my many visits. But, the land is also loved by the thousands of Christian pilgrims who visit every year from the US, Europe and Asia. They eagerly disembark from jumbo tour buses at a multitude of holy sites. Over the years , I have been inspired by their devotion during my visits to the old city’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre (with my son Ari on a long Shabbat afternoon in the summer), Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity (with Ari and his brother Noah, necessitating much ‘splaining at the IDF checkpoint when we tried to drive back into Jerusalem), Augusta Victoria Hospice atop the Mount of Olives, the Monastery of the Cross in Jerusalem, the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth ( with my teenage tour in 1973), the Sisters of Sion Monastery in Ein Kerem (magnificent views, very weird tombstones), The Basilica at Emmaus, the Monastery and vineyard at Latrun, and the Church of the Beatitudes in the Galillee. (At one time, I considered becoming a guide for Jewish tourists visiting Christian holy places and vice versa too.)
Should the ISIS caliphate succeed, these treasures would be destroyed in short order. Consider that aside from the two mosques on Haram-al-Sharif, there are few Muslim holy sites in Israel. Their venerated historical traditions with regard to this land are limited to military victories and Muhammud’s single visit to Jerusalem. Under both Ottoman and Jordanian rule, Jerusalem was relegated to dusty undeveloped backwater status.
I recently returned to the USA after a month as a visiting doctor at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Over the next few weeks, I will share with you experiences that I recorded in a weekly journal.