Jerusalem is the HOLIEST CITY on this planet for three faiths: Christians, Muslims and Jews. I couldn’t say I felt what others visiting this place felt, though I definitely wasn’t looking for the same thing as them. I wasn’t there on pilgrimage, nor looking for an answer or validation. I was just there, walking those holy streets within those holy Old City walls crossing from one faith Quarter to the next wondering “Why so many distinctions, separations, walls, and turmoil over this one place, Jerusalem?” Come with me. . . let me show you where I’ve been. They call it the HOLY LAND, but I say everywhere is Holy.
My first visit to Jerusalem, pronounced YE-ROO-SHAH-LAH-YEEM in Hebrew, was the morning after I touched down in Israel, pronounced YEES-RAH-EL. Only a 45 min bus from Modi’in (I was lucky to stay with a good friend and local), my window seat allowed for glimpses of the endless wall that separates Israel from Muslim settlements/neighborhoods and from the West Bank where we were headed. We crossed the necessary checkpoint too, where I got my first taste of Israeli soldiers. If you haven’t read my introduction to Israel post, I recommend you click here. A few more winding roads and we were in Jerusalem. Odeya and I separated because she had university while I had only one mission: Destination SHUK. Shuk is the Hebrew word for Marketplace and well Jerusalem’s is famous. Shuk Mahane Yehuda is a fantastic place to explore; let your senses take over guiding you where you need to go. Come one, Come All to this impressive Marketplace. . . On this particular Thursday, the local Jews filled the narrow walkways of the Shuk to purchase goods for SHABBAT/SABBATH, their Holy day of observance, while many also stocked up extra for the upcoming PESACH/PASSOVER Feast.
SHUK MAHANE YEHUDA
I can say with full confidence that the shuk was alive, full of eager buyers, some tourists and the shop-keepers. There were greens (artichokes, lettuce heads, leeks, etc) being thrown into plastic bags and tossed over human heads, caught with ease by customers who dare not waste time. Tourists beware. . . lest you get a ripe vegetable to the head. The holy feasts here in Israel would hardly be considered grand celebrations if not for the HOME COOKING, FAMILY GATHERED FAITHFULLY ALL UNDER ONE ROOF, THE PRESSURE TO GET IT ALL RIGHT and generally a bit of CHAOS too. I made sure I wasn’t getting in the way of locals and still managed to snap photos, buy dried fruits, escape a fat concussion on account of a shelf full of glass coconut oil bottles giving way from too much weight (where I’d just bought organic juice); so much excitement in such a small span of time. Walking past different stalls I let my eyes wander while I was in their world: a world of spices piled high, dates, nuts and natural remedies galore staring at me. Oh and the traditional desserts too had that come hither look. Shocking right? I wanted Dessert. I held off though, certain Odeya could point out the must haves, those Finger-licking-belly-happy Musts. You’ll also find hip bars and restaurants within the market, popular with both tourists and locals. Can you believe Hipsters have made it all the way to Israel? Well they have. You can find them here and in the neighborhood surrounding the market, just look for the cute coffee shops and Vegan friendly restaurants (guilty of eating in one). So many things one could buy and consume. . . Instead I opted to take a wander.
First I walked through a local neighborhood with a message for me: HAKUNA MATATA. If you’ve seen the cartoon film The Lion King, you know it means “No Worries for the rest of your days.”
What a great reminder. It’s a philosophy I would love to live by more often than not, because we currently live in a world where WORRY equates to STRESS, DEPRESSION, CONSUMERISM, INAUTHENTICITY, ADDICTION, SELF CRITICISM, FEAR and HATE etc. . . I could go on and on. But the truth is that every experience (even the ones we deem negative, difficult, worrying) teaches us something about ourself, about the world, about each other and is a necessary part of our growth. I’d rather choose ACCEPTANCE over Worry; CONTENTMENT over Worry; INTERNAL PEACE over Worry. I was happy to see this physical reminder here on the streets of Jerusalem that we can surrender to Universe, who is working with us to create the magic. NO WORRIES. . . no room for these lowest of energies to creep in, to consume me.
Maybe these two simple words also serve as inspiration for the local Israelis, to remind the people that we’re living in a time where we can choose to be more aware of our blessings and not focus solely on what’s going wrong, or what’s lacking, hearts consumed with Worry. Life is not always easy and I’m certainly not saying that a complex country with a massively complex history (like Israel) should accept everything and just be content. . . but I will say Acceptance is a necessary step if we are to become AWARE that right now is enough. The present moment/present reality is enough. We each have the power to create our reality, to surround ourselves with positive energy, to challenge hate, violence, and negative thought. We are enough, our Voice which then becomes our Action is enough. We can create the change we want to see in our daily lives, which then ripples out. I don’t know what a truly harmonic Israel would look like, and I thought to myself several times while on this trip, if they could only heal the wounds carried through time and generations, carried in the hearts and minds of Christians, Jews, Muslims, and various other groups who call this home. Maybe there has been relative peace in the recent years. Maybe Holy Feasts like PESACH remind that being around a table with family and friends, celebrating life, eating food and drinking wine is more than enough. CHAG SAMEACH (a Happy Holidays greeting shared during PESACH which literally means Joyous Festival), perhaps a reminder that laughter is enough, and love is enough.
LOVE IS THE ANSWER AFTER ALL
THE OLD CITY
A second visit to Jerusalem days later brought me to some of the Holy sites, a day to reflect on that complex history I mentioned, but only through my senses. I didn’t take a guided tour. I was either told facts by a friend or I overheard things when tour groups walked by me with a loud guide. I was here without really knowing the impact of each building, temple, mosque, church, street corner, wall, etc etc. BUT, I had my own experience among the faithful. I walked the same streets as the Orthodox. I studied the Jewish children walking usually unattended but for one eldest sibling no more than 8 or 9 years old leading the rest. I saw families, nuns, monks, tour groups, travelers from all walks of the world here in the Holiest City in the Middle East. I noticed the similarities in the women of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, with scarfs covering their hair and head. I left a prayer for PEACE and AWARENESS in the Hakotel/Wailing Wall and later sat in silence for a time listening to the Christian monks sing in Latin in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Had I been a little more knowledgeable about history, I’d have tried to also enter the Muslim’s holiest pilgrimage site, the Dome of the Rock, or at least attempted to get a closer look at the golden roof and elaborate tiles. On this visit, my feet didn’t take me that far through each designated “Quarter” for each faith (Christian Quarter, Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Armenian Quarter.
And you can marvel at the beauty and antiquity all around you, or sit in silence thinking of those who have fought and fought throughout history for this land in this part of the world. I did both.
Maybe there is something that is changing in us, in our youth, in the masses. I’d like to think there is some awakening, some shift happening in many of us throughout the world. A force, a movement to create long term peace could be in the works right now, if we only believe IT IS POSSIBLE right now in the present.
Come back for QU-EEN’s next post on Bethlehem, Palestine. <3