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The Feeling of Jerusalem

Posted 28/5/2014

Tribute to the Holy City and its people


First published by Israel National News as their leading material for The Day of Jerusalem coverage. Re-printed widely and internationally, including The JerUSAlem Connection Report (Washington, D.C.), Eretz Israel, 24jewish, and the other world media.


May 2014

The energy of these stones has provided nourishment for many generations of Jewish people, for all those who keep Jerusalem in their hearts as the nucleus of their universe.

There is no other sensation in the world like the one felt when one's hand is touching those warm, wise stones; the stones which are speaking to you; one to one.

Unique sensation

The first time we visited Jerusalem twenty-five years ago, in the end of 1980s, on the occasion of the Jerusalem Festival. My husband and I, both working in theatre at the time, were participating in it together with our good friends from the legendary Taganka theatre. It was the first ever visit to Israel for them as well, and we all were trembling of excitement and disbelief at being on Israeli soil.

Staying at the terrace of the Teatron Yerushalaim, we were looking around at the panorama of Jerusalem and its hills. It was at the time of sunset, and for Jewish people the next day was about to begin.

I lost my sense of time at that moment and was completely taken over by a strong and clear sensation: that place where we were lucky to stay was absolutely extra-ordinary, it was as if it had been held above the earth and held upward by a superior power. It had a very distinct magnetism, gentle, but extremely firm. And most importantly, time has no power over it.

The Feeling of Jerusalem is the sort of a sensation which transforms into conviction.

There are many Tel-Avivs on this planet, but there is only one Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, Jerusalem, to me, has never been a city – it is the Place. The unique, blessed Place of unparalleled, re-assuring power and magnetism.

The Talmud provides a straightforward explanation for this: the centre of Israel is Jerusalem; the centre of Jerusalem is the Temple; the centre of Temple is the Holy of Holies.

The Wonders of the Tunnels

This year, exploring the Temple Tunnel, we were extremely privileged to be at the place which is just ninety meters from the Holy of Holies. The place which is the holiest one for the Jewish nation is quite simple but appropriately adorned, it is a place for praying, with many prayer books around, a few chairs, and a couple of rows of seats. Everything there is unpretentiously gracious and just incredibly calm.

There are some other wonders and treasures of the Jewish world in that tunnel – such as Giant Stones, there are two of them, which are reportedly the largest stones in the world applied in the history of construction; people are so small when they are next to the solid stones of the Wall, one which weighs 55 thousand tons and the other 45 thousand tons. But as small as we are next to these stones, we feel their warmth – which is wondrous given the fact that they are still standing from the Second Temple period, and have been under the level of earth for thousands of years by now.

In the Tunnel, one can also see the place where the Western Wall really ends, and one realizes, happily, that the Wall – and our strength emanated by it - is substantially longer than the visible part, those precious 87,5 meters of the Wall at the Temple Plaza today.

Among the wonders of the Tunnel, we can also see part of the authentic, original street from the Second Temple period, – and one feels close to losing one's mind trying to comprehend that we are able to touch and to be present among the stones which witnessed and were part of life in Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple.

When examining the stones of Jerusalem, one can get as close as it gets, to the real understanding of what the Talmud means when it states that stones have their own souls, too. Stones accumulate the energy of people and their emotions throughout time. This energy does not disappear. It stays in stones. And never deeper than in the stones of Jerusalem.

In the Temple Tunnel, there is a very special place. I never saw anything like it in the world. In the same hall called the Hall of Epochs by the Temple Heritage Foundation, there are physical stones, architectural details, and artifacts from five epochs: the floor is from the period of the First Temple, the stones from the Second Temple period; a column and pillars from the Hellenistic period; the arches from the Hashmonean period; and corridors from the period of Roman rule, - all of it in the same physical space of a hall that is not very large.

I do not know a more convincing projection of Time in its physicality. This place where excavations are under way and a plan to open this place to the public in the near future, is the best preservation of history in stones of which I know.

When the Silver Thread becomes the Golden Bowl

And to make history alive, Bar-Mitzvah ceremonies for Jewish boys are organized regularly in the Tunnel today by the Temple Heritage Foundation. Significantly, many of those boys are orphans and from underprivileged families. This is what I call the Silver Thread – or the Silver Cord as it is often translated from Ecclesiastes:

"Remember Him before the silver cord is broken (and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed). 
Ecclesiastes 12:6

Making my way through the Muslim Quarter, I remembered that there has been only one documented episode in the entire Jewish-Arab history where there was Arab and Jewish unification on a certain issue. And what was the issue? Back in the early 20th century, between 1907 and 1914, there were scandalous and farcical escapades of British aristocrats led by Monty Parker, to excavate in the heart of Jerusalem to recover nothing less than the Ark of the Covenant. They efficiently bribed the Turkish officials who were administering Jerusalem, and they went for unauthorized excavations hiding what they were doing in the most hilarious way. When word went out that the Brits are after the Ark, Jews and Arabs of Jerusalem united in fierce riots against the illegal exercises of Monty Parker's 'brigade' and made him flee for his life. The reason of that unique unification does tell a lot.

At the junction where the Muslim Quarter comes to the Temple Plaza, there is another remarkable place, the Ohel Yitzhak Synagogue, which was destroyed by Jordan to its foundation – the same as Hurva was - in 1948, but which is under well advanced restoration today. The synagogue which formerly was the Synagogue of Hungarian Jewry and which was built in the 1870s, and now is back to life, is very light, gracious and beautiful. It is expected to open its doors for the people soon; but already now we saw IDF soldiers with their officers there with some of them able to pray at the quiet and inviting place.

Importantly, there is a special program for IDF soldiers carried on by the Temple Heritage Foundation, getting them familiar with the historical and spiritual legacy of our people in detail. We know the devoted people working there specifically with Zahal soldiers, and are hearing their stories: "I am living a bit too far from the Wall, 45 minutes walk" – says one of them, a young, bright and devoted Yishai Solomon.- On Shabbat eve, it is important for me to be at home by the time of the Shabbat dinner, of course; but if there is a group of Zahal soldiers, I stay with them here, at the Wall. It is so important for them to sense it, to experience it alive. I know where the soldiers would be returning to after their prayers at the Wall. And for many of them, it is their first time here", – says our good friend, able historian and keen archaeologist who is especially devoted to working with the Zahal soldiers.

This is how the Ecclesiastic Silver Thread is becoming the Golden Bowl – without cracks.

Hopes implemented

The Oleh Yitzhak Synagogue re-birth story has happened before with the well known Hurva Synagogue, a crown of the Hurva Square today. From 2010 onward when it was restored, finally, it is almost impossible to imagine that this central place of the Old City once looked very different, although the Hurva story is particularly painful and almost desperate since it was the largest Ashkenazi synagogue in Jerusalem during its many years of existence.

But there is something particular even in despair when it comes to Jerusalem. More than 20 years ago, in the early 1990s, Hurva's only surviving arch jumped into my husband's and my heart and stayed there. There are symbols like that in one's life. Despite all the sorrow, that very arch meant our bridge to Jerusalem, for both of us; to the extent that Michael painted his very famous My Stones. Jerusalem painting which now belongs to the Art Collection of the Municipality of Jerusalem, alongside famous works of Chagall and other great Jewish masters who did love Israel and Jerusalem with all their heart.

Seventeen years after the completion of Michael's work, Hurva Synagogue was restored; and that time, I took my pictures and included one of them in The Route collection of fine art photography which was inaugurated at the European Parliament in commemoration of the Day of Jerusalem there in May 2012, with the presence of the leadership of the European Parliament, heads of state, and hundreds of people, – all of them singing Gold of Jerusalem, and many knowing the words.

Michael and I united our artistic efforts and our love for Jerusalem and its spiritual treasures, and created a unique art collage, existing in the only copy. In that work, the ruins and the Arch of Hurva painted by Michael are merged with my artistic photograph of the Hurva restored. The piece is entitled Hurva Return, and we donated it last year to the outstanding Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzki who made the restoration of Hurva possible.

The whole Hurva miracle – yet another miracle which is an essential component of Jewish existence - means for us hope, the prevailing of life, and the connection between generations of Jewish people in the very heart of Jerusalem.

This continuity is the main source of our overall hope, and at the same time, it is the ongoing process which brings new qualities with each new generation of Jewish people, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

The new and renewed Jerusalem

The modernity of Jerusalem is the same essential, from my point of view, as the preservation of its heritage.

We are very lucky indeed, to have among our close friends the people who were and are responsible for developing Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. I am always telling them that they have the best work in the world. Being with them for a long time, I also know that this work is incredibly demanding and challenging, from many points of view and many perspectives, and that makes it just incredibly hard. All eyes are on you and what you do; what decisions you are taking; how you are implementing those decisions; and there is no mercy from both inside and outside Israel on every step and action taken in that very special place on the earth.

I cannot tell you enough how happy and proud we are every time coming to Jerusalem to find the new things that loom before our eyes: the new stylish residential areas in previously abandoned places; the magnificently restored Israel Museum complex, with museums which would instill a super-pride in any country in the world. We are overwhelmed by the level and class of all sorts of efforts put into the renovated and new parts of Yad Vashem, with all delicacy and power of loving memory, with all that dedication and innovation brought into the place making our Jewish nation proud and stern with its ability to remember. We love to get into the bustling Mammila promenade where the very walls are infused with Paris – and better – an atmosphere of a smart and elegant place where people never stop coming to at any time of day or night. We are glad to see all these new hotels which managed to preserve the architecture, style and spirit of the historical roots of the places in which they are located - as it has been done magnificently by the Waldorf, Mamilla and David Citadel complexes which are more than hotels, they are glorious land-marks of the new – and renewed – Jerusalem. We are happy to ride a fast train throughout Jerusalem – and we know what it took to make that project possible; we just love to see the faces of the train passengers who all are very much enjoying the latest motto in the urban transportation fashion. This is not to mention how much do we love to go to the shuk, Mahane Yehuda unique market – but who does not, and this returns us happily to the old Jerusalem days.

So I do understand every bit of what people in Israel mean when they talk about 'being a Jerusalemite'. It speaks to us in all its complexity and detail, and it melts our hearts. But it keeps our mind sober and focused.

With Jerusalem in the desert of Gulag

There is no doubt in my mind that the recent initiative of Yoni Chetboun, the Knesset MP, supported by a group of MKs from different parties, on making the Day of Jerusalem a national holiday in Israel is an absolutely right one. Our generation is lucky to remember the Day in 1967 when it happened, when an historic justice prevailed due to human courage and commitment.

My husband will never forget and remembers everyday of his life when Jewish people exiled to the Soviet Gulag who were listening to the Voice of America secretly, risking their lives, were coming out to the streets in Kazakhstan crying out of joy "We've made the victory! We won! Jerusalem is ours, back again!" 'We' – were crying with joy; Jews exiled in nobody's lands. We have repeated their joy every year since Iyar 28, 1967 all over the world.

And as for those who dare to call the Day of the unification of the capital of the Jewish nation 'a holiday of occupation' as do the Stalinistas of Meretz, I would highly recommend they buy a ticket to North Korea or Cuba, to enjoy life there.

Embracing 'the whole of Jerusalem'

My heart aches every time I pass the house where Israeli patriots hid while fighting in the underground in 1948. My heart jumps every time when I am privileged to hear our Psalms at the Great Synagogue with its magnificent, unbelievable, one in the world choir lead by Ell Jaffe. My heart stops when I feel the gentle but powerful push of the wind at every Shabbat we start at the Wall. That push of that wind signals to us that the people of the nation are heard.

And I am thinking of Bella Chagall who was willing 'to embrace the whole of Jerusalem' when she was a five-year-old child sitting with her family in Vitebsk, thousands of miles from it, - but knowing in her heart, the heart of a Jewish child, what Jerusalem is about.

Twenty-five years passed since my first acquaintance with Jerusalem, and our life has been stuffed with events. But I still remember and do feel the sensation of my personal discovering of Jerusalem a quarter of a century ago as if it was happening today. Probably, it was the main discovery in my entire life.

The Talmud provides insight into the Secret of the Wall. According to it, there is a mirrored image of the Temple in Heaven, and that entity keeps the Wall standing, no matter what occurs. Yet more importantly, it transcends the Presence. Ultimately, it sustains all those millions in Israel and all over the world who are living by our connection to Jerusalem and its stones, both directly and metaphorically.

Both in the beginning and in the end of the day, Jerusalem is the only place in this world where a person can talk with the Creator directly.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This essay was the basis for Dr Rogatchi's presentation Jerusalem. My Stones at The Rogatchi Foundation and the Estonian Jewish Centre/Estonian Religious Jewish Community Special Event commemorating the Day of Jerusalemand the 7th anniversary of the new Tallinn Synagogue in Tallinn, Estonia, on May 28th, 2014.


Dr Inna Rogatchi

The Rogatchi Foundation

May 2014

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