Next Year in Jerusalem

by Andrew Stein

Every year at the end of the Passover Seder, we finish with the words “next year in Jerusalem,” and today, here I am in one of the most sacred places in the world.  And not only one of the most sacred, but it is also one of the most historic.  Jerusalem is a city that has been destroyed and rebuilt a dozen times, and thus it is a city that wherever someone digs, there are layers and layers of history to be uncovered.  That also means that when a project such as a new light rail gets underway, the project will take much longer than expected because creating the foundation for the rail requires digging, digging inevitably turns to excavating, and each new archeological site slows down the light rail’s progress.  I believe that the new Jerusalem light rail was supposed to take 10 years complete and wasn’t completed until 20 years had passed.

As a tourist, coming to a city that has layer upon layer of history means that there is so much to see, and if that tourist happens to be traveling with my dad, than he shall try to attempt to see as much as possible within a day.  Soon after we get picked up from the hotel by our guide Moti (short for Mordachi), my dad begins sharing his list of everything that we would like to do and see during our day together.  The guide immediately questions if this is going to be a one-day or a one-week tour.  My dad laughs and says, “one-day”.  The amazing part is that except for the sites that were closed because it was Shabbat, we made it through most of the list.  We saw the City of David, including walking through its underground water tunnels and sewers.  We walked through the Christian quarter on the Villa Dolorosa, and ended up where Christ is believed to have been crucified.  We explored the Muslim quarter, and stopped for falafel, hummus, pita and a Coca-Cola.  We put small messages into the cracks of the Wailing Wall and watched as people danced and sang as they welcomed the Sabbath.  We noted gates a plenty, each with their own historical or biblical significance.  And we partook in a very real, hands-on history lesson from Moti. I believe the purpose of religion is to build community, provide support, and bring families together, and there is a lot of Jerusalem that achieves this; however, the segregation amongst communities is equally present.  Each religion has its own quarter in the city whether that be the Muslim quarter, Christian quarter, Jewish quarter, and so forth.  In addition, when it comes time to pray and announce one’s presence, there seems to a battle for airwaves between the Jewish chanting, the Christian bells, and the Muslim calls to prayer.

Jerusalem is a very complicated place built on thousands of years of history.  Trying to cover all of it in a day is impossible, but in this one single day that left me exhausted and a bit cold from the rain, the grandeur and the importance of the city to so many people past and present becomes clear.