Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Shopping in Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day

Yesterday, as dusk was falling on Jerusalem, I was wandering around the industrial zone of Talpiot, looking for a couple of pairs of shorts for my 6 year-old. His are all worn out or don't fit, and he has been reminding me on a daily basis that I promised to buy him new clothing.

I was wondering whether this was "appropriate" behaviour for Yom Yerushalayim, or whether I should be dressed in blue and white, waving a flag, and praising God. And then I remembered Yehuda Amichai's lovely poem:


Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb
And on the top of Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust over our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms.

Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower, I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!”
I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, “You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”
(Hebrew version here)

In this poem, Amichai feels that people visit Israel to salute death, to acclaim dead politicians, and to view ancient artifacts, remaining in the tourist bubble (represented by the hotel room.) But the real life - the redemption that is happening NOW - is the stuff of ordinary people going about their daily lives in Jerusalem. That is a source of wonder and amazement, and it is alive not dead.

There is certainly a time and place to celebrate, commemorate, to thank God for his salvation and kindness, (I did say Hallel this morning.)

Maybe I am suffering from a serious case of self-justification, and yet, possibly the best way that I commemorated Yom Yerushalayim this year was just living like a normal citizen in Jerusalem. I went to work, and then I bought my son a few pairs of shorts, and that is, in its own small way, an act of redemption. Because for 2000 years, there were no Jews doing that in Jerusalem. I came home, and took my other son to a supermarket (to buy Bissli for his Yom Yerushalayim party) in a place at which soldiers were fighting battles just 44 years ago. We thank God that we have the gift of being able to live normally in our beloved city.

Happy Jerusalem Day!

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