When I was 14, I went to the Middle East. Within about 10 minutes of entering the city of Jerusalem, I felt paralyzed.
I was standing at a busy intersection right in the heart of the city, my eyes glazed over and my feet rooted in place.
All of the oxygen left my body as I witnessed the scene in front of me
A young boy, no older than me, lying bruised on the ground. In the distance, the car sped away. I was pushed to one side as several people rushed towards him to check his vitals. Terrified, I peeled my eyes away and looked at my father, desperately searching for a sense of comfort in his familiar eyes. His calm, firm grip on my upper arm is the one thing I focused on as he led me further into the city.
I find myself thinking about this young boy often, even all these years later. I wonder if he survived and if he did, what his life looks like now. More than that, I find myself thinking about his home, Jerusalem. In essence, Jerusalem has captivated me.
As a city, Jerusalem embodies contrast. Acting as the epicentre of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, Jerusalem is a place riddled with pain, beauty, disagreement and love. I wasn’t aware of just how drastic this contrast was until I first set foot in the city. The stark clash of religion and culture permeates every corner of the city. Hand-in-hand with my father, I strolled from Mount of Olives in Arab East Jerusalem, to the Christian Garden of Gethsemane, to the Jewish Western Wall all in the span of 30 minutes. As I walked, I found myself getting lost in the history that surrounded me.
As the undivided capital of Israel, Jerusalem has been part of the Jewish nation since the time of King David. Throughout all of history, Jews were commanded to come to Jerusalem three times a year during the Feasts of the Lord. Even during the period of exile, Jews remembered Jerusalem at every wedding and every Passover feast. Ultimately, there has always been a Jewish presence in Jerusalem even when they were forbidden to enter their most holy city.
The significance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people cannot be separated from the significance of Jerusalem to Christians
In both faiths, the importance of Jerusalem is intertwined through the scriptures. Both groups share a heritage in Jerusalem as their spiritual capital, while Israel also claims it as her national capital. For Christians specifically, Jerusalem is the place where Jesus ministered to a lot of people and where he died and resurrected. In scripture, Jesus also promises to first appear in Jerusalem when he returns again.
For Muslims, the city of Jerusalem is known in Arabic as “Al-Quds” or “Baitul-Maqdis”, which translates to, “The noble, sacred place." Jerusalem acts as the first Qibla in Islam, the place which they turn towards in prayer. It was also Jerusalem that Muhammad visited when he journeyed from the Great Mosque in Mecca on a winged horse-like creature, followed by his ascension into heaven.
Jerusalem acts as a converging point for all three religions and under Israeli rule, all three religions have complete freedom. This is why in 1980, the Israeli Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law, which declares Jerusalem to be the eternal, undivided capital of the State of Israel. In essence, Jerusalem has always been the centre of the heart of Israel.
As I continued to weave my way through Jerusalem’s narrow alleyways, my senses were overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of the city
Everywhere I looked, I was met with the vivid colours of various clothing and jewelry displays. The sweet scent of spices wafted up my nose and the chorus of various languages rang in my ears.
As I explored, I noticed the distinct Arab and Jewish neighbourhoods where both groups of people lived together peacefully. From simply observing my surroundings, I noticed there were some similarities between this city and my home.
If I were to head to any public transit station in Jerusalem on a weekday morning, just like Calgary, there would be a wide range of people on their morning commute. I would see Muslim women in their hijabs alongside Orthodox Jewish men in their kippahs.
Despite this sense of daily harmony, the city of Jerusalem remains one of the most sensitive and complex issues between Israelis and Palestinians. For Palestinians, East Jerusalem is to be the capital of the future Palestinian State. For Israelis, the entirety of Jerusalem is the sole and indivisible capital of the Jewish State. Over time, multiple negotiation attempts have stalled and there is little sign of change on the horizon.
With many conflicts (such as the ownership of the city between Israelis and Palestinians) remaining unsolved, Jerusalem still remains a place of utter beauty and connection. As I came to the end of my stroll at the Western Wall, I placed my fingertips on the rough surface and closed my eyes. Running my fingers back and forth over the ancient wall, I allowed the weight of the moment to sink in. As the only remains of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, the Western Wall acts as a sacred place of prayer for the Jewish people. My heart stirred as I heard the murmurs of hundreds of prayers rise up to the sky.
Opening my eyes, I noticed the golden glimmer of the Dome of the Rock in the distance, a Muslim holy site. It was then I realized even though Jerusalem is a crossroads of conflict, it is also a crossroads of community.
Later, when we were on our way back to our hotel, I found myself at the same intersection I felt paralyzed at hours earlier. As I took in my surroundings, I realized everything was back to normal and life had carried on. Even though no trace of what happened remained, I will always remember that young boy and the beautiful city he belongs to.
- By Sarah Green