Over the past few days I have been trying to become better acquainted with the different ‘quarters’ of the 'Old City' of Jerusalem. Yesterday and today it has been the turn of the Jewish Quarter. It is not a part of the Old City that I know very well, and thus it is a place that I have always felt that I needed to be more careful in – specifically with regard to my attire and behaviour. I have also been careful as to when I have visited – ensuring it is not the Sabbath, for example. I think, on reflection, it is about my seeking to be courteous and polite. It is true that there is a particular part of the Jewish Quarter that is home to more Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and the Guidebooks recommend that this is certainly not an area to drift into in a car when it is the Sabbath as you are likely to get stones thrown at your vehicle. As I have walked around over the past few days though, it is possible to see where to be or not to be – just as it was in the Muslim Quarter (ie anywhere near an entrance to the Temple Mount that was not the official entrance during the official hours available to non-Muslims for visits).
I have visited six particular sites over the past two days:
the Jerusalem Archaeological Park & Davidson Centre, the Hurva Synagogue, the
‘Alone on the Wall’ Exhibition, the Burnt House, the Herodian Quarter/WohlArchaeological Museum and the Western Wall Tunnels. In visiting each of them, I
have journeyed through the history of this city and the people who have lived
here – with particular reference to the Jewish people.
The Jerusalem Archaeological Park & Davidson Centre abut
the Temple Mount and Western Wall – quite literally. I can quite understand why
the Muslim authorities are so sensitive to the excavation work that is going on
as it right against the foundations of the Temple Mount. Regardless of who one
thinks should have ownership of the Mount, the work that is going on will mean
that one group will feel either that the other is seeking to interfere with
what is rightfully theirs or impede access to what is rightfully theirs. The
work that is going on at the base of the Mount (hidden underground and away
from sight, it is true) presents in microcosm the very problems that are at the
root of the underlying anxiety that rests in the air of the City of Jerusalem: ‘You
have what is mine and I want it back’ vs ‘You want what is mine and I am not
going to let you have it’. I believe these statements, although quite
simplistic, are at the heart of the conflict between Jew and Muslim. It’s not
just about the Temple Mount – it is about the whole of this land. Christians don’t
even begin to have look in with regard to the dispute over ‘land rights’ – they are
a faith group that is diminished by both authorities in the land (and in the
city in particular) and many Christians have left Palestine and Israel because
it is such a difficult place to be.
The Archaeological Park is a site in the open air, and one
wanders around the stones realising that some of them are almost two thousand
years old. Some parts have been uncovered for some time and, with their
uncovering, new insights have been gleaned into the way in which the Temples of
our Jewish ancestors (First and Second Temple periods) were built, decorated,
used and revered.
Some of the stones are massive – seriously massive.
Imagining how they were quarried, and then brought to the top of this mountain
– and how long this took, with building and decorating added on is seriously
mind-boggling. Just walking around this place, knowing that my forebears in
faith walked in this place too, I find really moving(Jews as forebears of Christians).
They came to worship in this place, just as I travel to worship in my church or
in a church here in Jerusalem. Worshipping God is important to me, therefore I
make an effort, I put time aside, I find others with whom to share the space
and time so that we are a community and household of faith together.
In the Burnt House and Herodian Quarter, the visitor is
transported back in time to the time of the destruction of the Second Temple –
70AD (or CE if one is using current time denotors). The charred remains of
homes are visible, indicating the torching of the city, and in the Burnt House,
the remains of a severed arm were discovered during the excavations of the area
carried out in the years just after the Six Day War of 1967. Underneath the ground
of the area surrounding the Hurva Synagogue (itself a building rebuilt twice),
excavations during this period revealed many homes and gave up stories to
connect us in our present day to the days of those in times past.
Stone vessels indicate that one of the homes belonged to a
family who took ritual cleanliness seriously. Not for them clay or wooden vessels
that could be tainted, rather, for their household the vessels must be of stone
that could not be tainted in any way.
In another house, the remains of perfume bottles were found,
with pessel and mortar for crushing the ingredients that would be used to release
the scents. Glass objects, sealed underground for two thousand years, revealed following
only after a period of intense bombing, a period that led the Jewish Community
here to ask how its past could be honoured, whilst its future be developed (and
ensured). These two places in particular give vivid insight into the past, and
some small insight into why emotions related to this City of Jerusalem run so
very high for all who live here. Honouring the past – and those who lived,
fought for and died here – of all faiths – whilst developing the future is a
I have come away from each of these six experiences –
individually and as a whole – inspired, moved, challenged, confused. However, this
is what faith does, this is what thinking does, this is what being truly alive
does – and I am glad for it. My, how I pray there were a way forward that
enabled the people of this city to live in peace and free from harm.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,
they shall prosper that love thee.
Psalm 122: 6