JWR Israel: Dreams, Realities
May 1, 1998 / 5 Iyar, 5758

A Jerusalem street-walker

By Hanoch Teller

I HAVE BEEN blessed with the curse of the Wandering Jew.

Blessed because wandering for me has meant walking the streets of my land and of my city. Wandering isn't an avocation without drawbacks. The loneliness of the veteran walker is inevitable. Imagination becomes one's only companion. For some, this means Mitty-esque fantasies of political power, great wealth, daring ... just minutes outside the door.

Such mental peregrinations have never suited me. The wanderings of my mind often interfere with the wanderings of my feet. The result is jaywalking, missed destinations, and collisions with lamp posts. Yet, walking in Jerusalem is an experience apart. I'm not referring to the ubiquitous hills, the realization that walking will get you there quicker than waiting for a bus. Walking in Jerusalem, "my Jerusalem," is a spiritual rendezvous with the vintage Jewish experience.

Just walk the streets and read their names! Walking three blocks is not merely crossing Madison Park, and Lexington. It means going from HaNevi'im/Prophets Street to Shivtei Yisroel/ Tribes of Israel Street to Shmuel HaNavi/Samuel the Prophet Street. How can one but feel history rush by! Each step is a leap into the past. Rechov HaNevi'im: Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, this street is named after you! Who can think about traffic lights while engrossed in the message of days of yore? Isaiah's call to act righteously, seek. justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless; and plead for the widow echoes through the street. Jeremiah's laments and Ezekiel`s visions permeate the asphalt.

Walk up Rachel Imainu (the Matriarch) Street and try to feel lonely. It simply isn`t possible. For thousands of years, Rachel has been masterfully offering solace to lonely, wandering Jews.

Each street is nothing but a hint, a suggestion of a whole cast of spiritual heroes who share the road with me. Uninvited, they join me just the same, for my Jerusalem is theirs. I am a mere newcomer, embarked on paths less spiritual and monumental.

Geographically, Abraham's trip here was shorter than min, his baggage lighter. I brought a lift; he brought his one and only son as a sacrifice. Father Abraham`s memory nags at me as I walk the same Jerusalem streets looking for specials, glancing at posters. His thoughts as he walked the same streets, no doubt, were what would happen to the future of the Jewish Nation on which he was about to sacrifice on the Temple Mount.

An English tourist once stopped me on Mount Zion and asked if it was true that only a crusader was buried in "King David's Tomb." I told her that I didn't know, but I was sure that where we were standing. David had played marbles with Jonathan and not much further down the hill Solomon had written Proverbs. "In my opinion," I told her, "there's sanctification enough in that!" (Perhaps she thought I was overzealous --- but, after all, one tends to excess in guarding that which is precious.

Walking on Mount Scopus I cannot help but recall Rabban Gamliel, Rav Elazar ben Azariah, Rabbi Joshua, and Rabbi Akiva. From this very lookout they beheld in the distance a fox entering from the location of the "Holy of Holies" in the freshly destroyed Temple. They could not bear the thought that a site so holy should be thus profaned. Am I not heir to their sensitivities?

If I forget thee O Jerusalem... It is so easy to live in this holy city and forget what a privilege it is to be here. The ease ... how new it is! I try to maintain the vision of the elevated mien of the Shtetcl Yid who saved up his rubles for twenty years solely to make the long, taxing journey to Jerusalem.

Imagine taking a walk with Yehudah Halevy. The experience could be either inspiring or depressing. His travails diminish the effect of the many aliyah stories which we love to tell, After all, we didn't really sacrifice that much to get here -- giving up some luxuries, conveniences, a few thousand dollars, and boarding and de-planing. Contrast this with the story of Yehudah Halevy -- what dedication, what sacrifice, what martyrdom! We are able to come, tour, enjoy, while he, at his very entry to this holy city, was cut down by that iniquitous rider.

And how about Moses Montefiore? How he loves to show me around the city! He has so much naches from the way that it is built up. Sir Moses wants me to build, too. Physically, spiritually, or emotionally, one must build in Jerusalem. London or New York may be suitable background for stagnation, not Jerusalem! The students of the Vilna Ga'on, the Baal Shem Tov, and so many others throughout the centuries, came here to, teach that same message.

Our brave soldiers complete my Jerusalem collage, joining ranks with my distinguished cortege. I didn't need the unfortunately too-frequent memorials to lodge a lump in my throat. Dozens of pock-marked buildings are eternal testimony to the battles waged and the lives sacrificed in the struggle to liberate our city.

"Seek the peace of Jerusalem,' sang the Psalmist, a fervent prayer that no more blood be spilt to safeguard and preserve the "inner essence" of our nation. I fervently pray that "my Jerusalem" will be my children`s Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem of all men able to dream and live in the tradition of this great city.

Hanoch Teller is the author of several works on Judaic themes. This essay, written while the author was a student at Jerusalem's Mirrer Yeshiva, won First Prize in a creative writing contest sponsored by the Jerusalem municipality in honor of the 15th anniversary of the city's reunification.
©1998, Hanoch Teller