And there was morning.
We arrive in Israel just before dawn, as the sun begins its ascent, a mass of dark almost purple clouds, giving way to a deep coral sky, back lit by the faint morning light. It slowly turns orange, before opening up to an expanse of translucent blue.
A heavenly canopy spreading out over the holy city, and over us.
We approach Jerusalem and glimpse the glow of ancient stones bathed in the sun’s rays. The winding streets, the walled gardens with flowering vines cascading towards the pavement, the street signs that guide us, named for the rabbenum, whose teachings map our way, and those more recent sages and seers who birthed the state’s founding.
Past, present, future collapse into one, history spooling out and holding me in its thrall.
Beginnings and endings and beginnings, again.
Later, we head out to walk, our inner GPS providing a comforting familiarity. There is a vibrant energy, buses and taxis speeding by, passerbys in frum black hats and cloaks and others in gym shorts and Ts. Tatooed teens and young girls in long skirts and heavy hose. And the strollers!
We cut through Independence Park, boisterous children on swings and slides, little ones in the sand box, a group of preteens on the basketball court. Families in kipot and modest dress, the men with tzitis swinging as they walk, others gathered around picnic tables, the women in head scarves, handing out sandwiches or fetching drinks, engaged in lively conversation in Arabic.
In the news and on the streets, evidence of the underlying unrest. The proposed legislation to limit judicial power, the rightward thrust of the current government, the loud and strong protest in response. The everlasting worries about security, the concerns for human rights and the seemingly insoluble solution for making room in one land for two peoples.
It is the very messiness of democracy at work, even in a place that wrestles mightily with its identity as both the homeland of the Jewish people and a democratic state.
So it goes in Israel.
And so it is that I find myself looking upward to the heavens. To the sky that shelters us all, to the promise of the divine to guard us and keep us. To hopes and prayers for peace, for finding that ever elusive way to ensure those inalienable rights that are the bedrock of democracy, freedom and justice for all.
And so, on the last Shabbos in Jerusalem, we walk through the old city to the kotel. We gather with the throngs who are waiting for the third star to appear in the night sky, to lift their hands toward the flickering light of the havdalah candle, to sniff the pungent spices, to sip sweet wine.
And to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
And so it is for me, in the holy city, in the city of David, the city of peace, I look upward to glimpse the stars and the moon’s glow. And I pray that morning will indeed follow evening, that the pure clear light of dawn will greet me as I wake, that the warmth of the sun will guide me through the days, and the moon, as it phases from a tiny sliver to a silvery orb, will comfort me with divine presence.
And may it be so for us all.