If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Jerusalem’s diversity on Jerusalem Day, Jerusalem Time: A Symposium is for you. Seven eye-opening 30-minute conversations about Time in Jerusalem and beyond with an artist, a philosopher, an Imam, a Greek Father, a yeshiva bocher, a film-maker, a climate change activist, a classicist, 2 Talmud scholars and more. Your alarm clock may never look the same again!
The symposium is taking place under the umbrella of Jerusalem Tolerance’s Yom Yerushalmim, promoting diversity in Jerusalem, on Jerusalem Day and every day. Go here to see what else they have planned for Jerusalem Day, 2020.
Time and Temporary Structures
The book of Exodus gives detailed instructions for making the mishkan, the tabernacle (Exodus 25-31), followed by a detailed description of how it was made (Exodus 35-39). Finally, in the last chapter of Exodus, in language that evokes God’s creation of the world, Moses sets up the mishkan for the first time – appropriately enough, on the first day of the first month (Exodus 40:1-2). The book of Exodus does not, however, describe the dismantling of the mishkan. There are plausible reasons for this.
It’s sad and deflating to think about dismantling something that you’ve only just built, even if you knew from the beginning that it would be temporary – as with a sukkah for example.
The idea that a structure can and will be dismantled could undermine its significance; if it was really important, we might argue, it would be permanent, built to last.
A dismantled structure can appear to be fragile and unstable – lofty walls and columns reduced to a pile of sheets and poles, the roof that was over your head is now under your feet.
And watching the dismantling of a structure can be unsettling, making you feel exposed and vulnerable.
All this might help explain why we don’t hear about the dismantling of the mishkan until this week’s parsha, Ba’midbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), and even here (Numbers 4:1-20) care is taken to preserve the sense of the mishkan’s power and integrity.
First, a special group – the Kohathites, a sub-category of the Levites – is singled out for the responsibility of taking down and carrying the dismantled mishkan (Numbers 4:2-4).
Second, even the Kohathites are given restricted access to the mishkan. Aaron and his sons will have covered all the sacred objects by the time they enter (Numbers 4:15).
Third, the work of the Kohathites is said to be extremely dangerous, a matter of life and death – for them (Numbers 4:15, 19-20).
Since the mishkan is both a microcosm of the universe and a blueprint for the Temple, it’s small wonder that there is so much sensitivity around taking it down. But you don’t need to have in mind the end of the world or the destruction of the Beit Ha’Mikdash to feel disturbed by images of dismantling.
Most of us have experienced the dismantling of a family home. Even for those fortunate enough to be moving to a bigger apartment or a house in a new location, it can be destabilizing to see all your worldly possessions in bags and boxes, your furniture wrapped and stacked and loaded into a van.
How infinitely more disturbing – as unfortunately too many know from firsthand experience – to see your home dismantled because you’ve been driven out of it with nowhere to go; to leave your worldly possessions behind because you don’t have anywhere to take them.
A Day in Jerusalem
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem many Palestinian families are living under the threat of forced eviction from their homes. One of them, the Sumarin family of Silwan, has spent 30 years fighting to stay in their modest house with its view of the walls and dome of Al Aqsa mosque. I wrote about them in a post last week; go to the end of this post for a summary of their ordeal.
The Sumarin’s case returns to court in Jerusalem on 30 June, 2020. Last time this happened, petitions totaling 3,000 signatories kept them safe at home for the time being. Please consider adding your name to a combined petition/email campaign launched by a coalition of supporters to run from Jerusalem Day to 30 June. Or join Sha’alu Shalom Yerushalayim, Seek Peace Jerusalem, religious activists against evictions in East Jerusalem. Sign up here to join their mailing list, or learn more at this link about how to protect the Sumarin Family by writing a blog post, op-ed or letter to your community.
The organizations – led in the Sumarin’s case by the Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL) – that seek to evict Palestinian families from East Jerusalem are motivated by a desire to rebuild East Jerusalem in their own image. They don’t want to share.
That brings me back to Ba’Midbar and the dismantling of the mishkan. The mishkan was designed as a temporary structure because it was intended for a journey – the 40 years the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness. But structures that can be assembled and disassembled at will have another advantage: they allow for the possibility of sharing space.
Take 8 minutes to watch Nira Pereg’s Abraham Abraham and Sarah Sarah, created as a two-part video installation that depicts the transition from mosque to synagogue and from synagogue to mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, on one of the 10 days each year when the cave is not divided but shared between the Jews and Muslims for whom it is holy. If we can share space there, we can share it anywhere.
The Sumarin Family Ordeal
In the 1980s, a few dozen properties were taken from Palestinian families under a scheme between settler organizations, governmental bodies, and a subsidiary of the Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL). In 1989, without consulting or informing the family, the JNF-KKL subsidiary initiated a procedure that resulted in the home of one of those families, the Sumarin family of Silwan, being designated as absentee property. At that point, the property was purchased by the Jerusalem Development Authority, who later transferred it to the JNF-KKL subsidiary. In 1991, the JNF-KKL subsidiary filed an eviction suit against the Sumarins. The lawsuit was dismissed, and in 1992, the original scheme was stopped by a special investigative committee. But the confiscated properties were not returned to their Palestinian owners; each family faced a protracted legal battle to avoid eviction. For the Sumarins, this dispute has been going on for almost 30 years. In September 2019, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court accepted a renewed eviction claim, with the outcome that the Sumarins were required to leave the house within 3 months and pay tens of thousands of shekels in legal fees and other expenses. They appealed, and their case returns to court on 30th June 2020. This is a highly simplified summary of the Sumarins’ situation. You can read a detailed account of the history here.