In the early morning hours I slip outside and watch as the pale gray sky takes on a rosy hue gradually turning to blue as the sun rises. Puffs of white clouds dot the heavenly expanse that seems to shimmer in the light. Another day unfolding before my eyes, its miracle in its dawning.
So it is in Jerusalem, where the air seems to have an ethereal quality, where it is said that divine presence resides, where it is palpable at first light. It is Peter Berger’s sacred canopy made real, where whatever is divine, or special, or good in this world spreads out over us offering heavenly protection.
The image stays with me throughout our precious days in the City of Gold, where the luminescence of the sky, the lightness of the air, the glint of the sun’s rays on the stone, imbues the city with its special aura.
It is the counterpoint to days digging deep into the city’s beleaguered past, exploring its ruins and peeling back its layered history. Archaelogical discoveries examined alongside Biblical text, voices of scholars and prophets in stirring conversation. The miracle of Israel as the realization of Theodor Herzl’s dream, the yearning of the ancient Israelites for a return to Zion. The place of Israel among the family of nations and its struggle to conflate its identity as a state and its identity as a people. The exaltation of its might and the insoluble conundrum of one land and two peoples. The black hatted yeshiva buchers scurrying along its paths in the footsteps of the rabbenum, and the hordes of boisterous high school and college students crowding the narrow byways encountering their past and engaging with its vibrant present. The streets crowded with old and young, religious and secular, light skin and dark, Sephardi and Ashkenazi.
The reality of Israel today in all its dazzling diversity and confounding complexity.
It grounds us to our past and portends our future, reminding us where we have come from and helping us see where we need to go.
Our roots hold us fast, our wings lift us aloft, and it is here in Jerusalem that I sense that space between heaven and earth, in the incandescence of the early morning light and the velvety expanse that spreads out above as night falls
On our last Shabbos in the holy city, as our first, we go to the kotel just as the third star appears in the sky, and the Sabbath ends. Small groups gather to herald its departure with blessings and wine and a whiff of sweet spices. The wick of the havadalah candle bursts into flame and the heady scent of fresh mint permeates the night air. I break off a sprig and tuck it in my pocket to take home.
There is a compelling peacefulness and serenity as day becomes night, as one week ends and another beckons.
Indeed, it is as if heavenly presence dwells here.