This Tuesday evening at sundown, the Jewish community will commemorate Jerusalem Day – the 50th anniversary of the day the vastly-outnumbered Israeli army reclaimed and reunified the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six Day War.
My husband and I experienced the depth of the connection the Jewish people have with this place during our first visit to Israel in 2009 after Bill joined the board of the Caspari Center.
We’d flown through the night, and had been awake more than 24 hours when we landed in Israel. The sherut (shared ground transport) dropped us at our hotel in Jerusalem at midday. It was still too early to check into our room, so we stowed our bags with the hotel clerk, ate something, and decided we’d go for a walk. Bill and I knew we needed to stay awake until closer to sundown in order to reset our body clocks to Jerusalem time. We headed in the general direction of the Old City, but quickly realized the little plastic tourist map I was carrying would be of no use once we entered the Jaffa Gate. Those narrow, crowded ancient streets and twisting, shadowed alleyways were a baffling maze to both of us, particularly in our exhausted state.
We decided instead to just start walking, but we had no specific destination in mind. Normally, when we’re lost or disoriented when we travel, we tend to bicker a bit. Not that day. It was as though an unseen hand was guiding us to exactly where we most needed to be. We walked, not stopping to look or shop or take pictures, turning left, right, left, down a steep hill dodging cabs and crowds, came around a corner, and there it was: the Western Wall. The place of deep longing, collective sorrow, and generations of imprecations and praise. The link to the beauty of a Temple filled with the presence of God, and the longing among the Jewish people for a Messiah to reign on the earth in perfect justice and pure mercy.
We weren’t even trying to get there, as we had plans to visit a couple of days later. Our agenda didn’t matter. When we stood in front of that holy and heartbreaking wall, the realization that we’d been drawn there like exhausted moths to a flame was life-altering for me. In that moment and place, my own ache for home – an ache that has marked the diaspora experience of my people – was simultaneously exposed and salved, my identity as a Jew was affirmed in me in a place too deep for words, and my trust was confirmed in the Holy Spirit’s faithfulness in leading us exactly where we need to go every step of our journey.
Thanks to what those soldiers did fifty years ago, Bill and I had an experience that our forebears could only dream of. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem, knowing that those prayers draw us into service as watchmen on the walls of the city in a time of incredible tension in the region. Shalom, Jerusalem.