Broken Hill

April 12, 2020. (Courtesy)

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing
                                  Leonard Cohen

I don’t know whether Leonard Cohen ever visited the hill that looks over Ben Hinom Valley at the Old City, the Mount of Olives, Silwa’an, and Abu Tor.

Perhaps he came here in 1972. That spring, Cohen gave a legendary concert on another hill on the same ridge. In 1972, 1967 was still fresh. Before 1967, the land to the east of the Hill was part of Jordan. Jewish access to these places was new. What would Jewish access to these places mean? Nobody knew.

I don’t know whether Cohen was ever here, or whether this is the broken hill that inspired If it be your will.

I know that this song, a song that’s more of a prayer, and this Hill together have given me a handle to hold onto as I’ve tried to release the compulsion to comprehend the incomprehensible.

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will

The “temple of the mind” where I came of age — Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University — was also a landscape that invited contemplation. The tall ceilings, the stained glass windows, the green-sconced table lamps, the leather chairs, the clanking radiators. When I came to that sanctuary, those were my pews.

When I came to Sterling I came to read and write.

When I come to the Hill, I come to breathe, to cry, to sing.

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

Before this started, when the skies were still open and planes were still flying to and from Israel, the Hill was covered with irises and anemones.

Now it is turning gold with wild wheat. On windy afternoons the stalks bend, waving in the mincha light like blond hair. As the sun drops behind the Orient Hotel, behind Cyprus trees and red roofs in Talbiye and Rechavia, I think about the ocean, and about America.

In America, the sun is still rising. Is the sky in New York as blue it was in Jerusalem today?

Throughout this period, the skies have dazzled. Lying on my camping mat gazing at the clouds, I often flashed back to the luminescent cobalt dome that hung over the City on 9/11. חופת שמים.

I don’t know how to orient toward New York.

I don’t know how to orient toward America.

Will I see America again?

Who among the people I left when I moved to Jerusalem three years ago will I see again?

Will I see them here, or there?

When?

And who will I not see?

I don’t know.

All I know is that I don’t know.

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

In the pristine Corona silence, I wonder what this place was like eons ago, when the valley was a river.

Imagining the river to the east helps me orient toward the ocean to the west.

Will I see America again?

No.

The America I know is gone.

When I approach the Hill from the steps behind the First Station, as I reach the top and watch the canvas unfurl at my feet to the east, I think:

…זה

This…

This is the place.

Before Corona, before Israel, before Palestine, before Balfour, before America, before Jerusalem, before Moses, before the Bible…

This is the place where this story was born.

Once upon a time there was a man, a father who had two sons.

He loved them both, but the voice guiding him led him to separate from them.

Both separations were painful.

When the man died, both sons returned to bury him.

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will

About the Author
Shari Sarah Motro was born in New York, and was raised in Herzliya. She studied philosophy at Yale, law at NYU, and two semesters of Arabic at the University of Jordan. Motro served in the Strategic Planning Division of the IDF, practiced law at Davis Polk and Wardwell and worked as a senior research fellow at Empax before joining the faculty of the University of Richmond School of Law in 2005. She became a full professor in 2011. She also taught at Yale College, University of Fribourg, and Georgetown University. She now lives in Jerusalem where she is based at the Van Leer Institute, while remaining affiliated with the University of Richmond. To receive notices of updates to this blog, please write to smotro@richmond.edu with "Subscribe Times of Israel" in the subject line.
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