Jerusalem Day: Of Paradise Lost and Found

Yesterday morning, I walked my daughter to gan. As we sauntered (very slowly) along, she asked me a question:

Daughter: Ima, why am I wearing kachol v’lavan (blue and white) today?

Mother: Because it is Yom Yerushalayim.

Daughter: Yes, I know that! But what does blue and white have to do with Yerushalayim?

Mother: Blue and white are the colors of the degel yisrael (Israeli flag).

Daughter: Yes, I know that too. But why are blue and white the colors of the flag?

Mother: Let’s hurry. We’ll be late to Gan.

When we got to Gan, I repeated the conversation to her ganenet. (Israeli ganenot, for those unfamiliar with them, are all-knowing on all subjects). She laughed. “Your daughter doesn’t know why the Israeli flag looks like this?” (What she really meant was: You don’t know why the flag looks like this?) She turned to Etelle: “Think of the colors and stripes on your Aba’s tallit… That’s why the Israeli flag was designed as it is.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat and studied the eleventh perek of Melachim Aleph (Kings I). I confided to a friend that reading it left me feeling immensely frustrated. The first ten chapters tell a story of Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) and by extension, his entire domain, living a life of perfection.  It was an era of economic stability, political security and regional peace (no doubt both doves and hawks were pleased), of harmony among the Jewish people in the Jewish land. Indeed, it is from this period that the emblematic phrase, ish tachat gafno v’tachat te’anato (each man beneath his vine and his fig tree), arises. And then – the fall: the rise of enemies within and without. Paradise Lost once again.

So much of our ancient history seemed to me to be filled with “if onlys.” From the time Adam took a bite out of that fruit, there were moments in Biblical time when perfection had a chance: Mount Sinai (that would be pre-Golden Calf and the Spies), King Saul, King Solomon, King Chizkiyahu, the post-Babylonian exile return to Israel – when the commentaries tell us things could have been Eden-like… if only someone(s) had not done something(s) just a bit wrong. And we’re still waiting to get it right.

My friend said: Let me tell you what I really think. (cautionary tale: tell me what you’re thinking and you may find yourself in my next Blog post). Look around. Where are we? How are we? In our own homes, in our own land, under our own dominion. Where were we – and the world – one thousand years ago? One hundred years ago? Where are we now?

Yesterday evening, I went to Jerusalem. My husband, daughter, and I were off to hear Achinoam Nini (Israel’s iconic singer, who actually spent her childhood in New York, attending the SAR and then Ramaz day schools) sing the classic melodies of a modern State of Israel. Against the blackness of the night sky, the audience’s faces were alight with song. In the background, thousands of blue-and-white teenagers drifted by, returning from their march to the Kotel.

I live here. I pay taxes here. I just paid the arnona bill at the post office. I’ve watched the internal and external conflicts rise and fall. No need to lecture me about the imperfections of this country. It’s a lecture I could give without any advance preparation.

But last night, I looked around. A Yemenite woman with a voice that resonated through the heavens. A crowd across the religious spectrum (I don’t want to tell tales out of school, but every segment of Jewish society was represented) – even the police and security guards – had their eyes glued to the singer. A symphony (literally and figuratively) of Jewish men and women making music. And a city hall bedecked in those blue and white flags waving in the wind.

At the close of her concert, the singer asked us all: “In the last hour and a half, what has happened here? Nothing at all. Only music – and what greater joy could there be?”

Klum karah – rak musika, eizeh simcha!

Paradise found.