With peace talks underway and the future of Jerusalem on the table, speculations bounce from Jerusalem to Ramallah to Washington. Member of Knesset, Ofer Shelah, said last week, “I don’t see a possible peace agreement in which the Palestinians cannot call East Jerusalem the capital of the Palestinian state…. The solution in Jerusalem will be very complex. It will be a solution of words as much as actions. On the ground, it’s impossible to put up a wall and say, ‘This is ours and that’s theirs.’” The official position of Shelah’s party, Yesh Atid, is very different. Its document of principles states: “Jerusalem will remain united under Israeli sovereignty because Jerusalem is not just a place or a city, but the centre of the Jewish-Israeli ethos and the holy place for which Jews longed throughout all generations.”
If one party is so conflicted about the future of Jerusalem, the Jewish People is also conflicted. Some look at the facts on that holy ground and say, “Possible.” Others look at the same facts and say, “Impossible.” Some Jews look into their hearts and the holy space they hold for Jerusalem there and say: “Possible.” Others look into their hearts and say: “Impossible.”
Our Sages could not have imagined the Israel we have today. The two Jerusalems they dreamed about were not two cities side by side along latitudinal lines. The two Jerusalems of their dreams are stacked, one hovering above of the other. Their teaching still inspires today.
Yerushalayim shel matah is the lower or earthly Jerusalem and Yerushalayim shel malah is the upper or heavenly Jerusalem. The former is the here-and-now reality. A Jerusalem of marketplaces and hard stone, borderlines and bus fumes. It’s the morning news and the daily grind. It’s hard earned accomplishments and inevitable disappointments. And the latter is the place of our hopes and dreams above and beyond the horizon. A Jerusalem of yet-to-be, where no one is hungry and all is peace. It is the “next year” Jerusalem we speak of around seder tables. Always “next year.”
Closer to Home
I most recently spoke of these two Jerusalems in early July, while sitting in a circle with some of our teens on a grassy hill at Camp George. They spoke openly about the gap between their aspirations and their reality. Some parents warn them not to be too idealistic, to get their head out of the clouds. Others are told not to get stuck in the moment, to dream big. It’s a tricky balancing act. Tough for parents and teachers, but hardest on our kids. These bright teens seemed relieved to learn that the ancient Rabbis understood them and knew about their constant climbs between the real and the ideal, and often back again.
We culminated our study by creating this mosaic, now hung on the eastern “wall” of the outdoor chapel by the lake. On the lower half of the sturdy pine is the word “Yerushalayim” written in earthy colours, surrounded by yellow and pink stones collected from the pathways of camp. The upper half of the tree carries the same word, “Yerushalyim,” but the letters are inverted and upside-down, because it takes imagination to get there. The letters are made of fragmented mirror and are surrounded by glass marbles, in watery shades of blue and green.
Preparing for the Holy Days
To be a Jew is to wander through the alleyways of both of these blessed Jerusalems, sometimes even simultaneously. To be a Jew at this time of year is to reconsider our access to the two Jerusalems and to plot the route that will carry us from one to the next with a little more urgency.
I am grateful for our teens, who are surprisingly open to these conversations. It seems most fitting that they be our ushers on Yom Kippur afternoon, from 1:30 – 3:00 pm when all are invited to climb Jacob’s Tower. Like the angels ascending and descending the ladder in Jacob’s dream, let us, on the most sacred day of the year, consider how to move gracefully from here to there.
To volunteer as a teen usher for the Tower Climb on Yom Kippur afternoon, please contact our Youth Director, Lisa Isen Baumal at 416-789-3291 ext. 242.