Why Jerusalem? Why now?

I decided it’s time to make a trip.

Maybe it’s my mid-life crisis. Maybe Lafayette is getting too small. Maybe it was a reminder by a good friend that I had pledged one year ago to come up with a plan to travel by July, 2014.

I’m “in between jobs,” as they say and I have a bit of money set aside. “If not now, when?” I asked myself. So, I took the plunge and planned a trip.

There are so many places I’d like to see. Paris, Italy, Greece, Japan…….India! But of all the places I could imagine going, when I asked myself, “If you could only see one place in the world in your life, where would it be?” the answer was always: Jerusalem.

“Why Jerusalem,” people ask. It’s hard to express that answer. The Holy City holds a place in the western imagination like none other. Though I’m an atheist, I was raised Catholic and I am not immune to this connection. Isreal, Galilee, Judea, Bethlehem, Jerusalem…..these are names that were read to me each Sunday in sacred stories.

As a student of religious history, this place, where the three Abrahamic religions collide holds a special fascination.

The everlasting conflict there, with tentacles stretching long into ancient history and reaching long into the future makes that place, that sacred place, filled with veneration and strife simultaneously alive, only heightens the fascination with this city’s unique role in the world.

There may never be a completely safe time to visit Israel or the Palestinian territories (or any city, for that matter). When I had the idea, the current war had not begun. From the time I decided to go to the day I write this, Israel and Hamas have been at war. The deadliest they have engaged in, in decades. As I contemplated going to Jerusalem, people were dying. Bombs were exploding. Gaza was being pummeled. And the voices of both sides screamed through the media and more powerfully, through social media.

I followed news feeds from all sides of the conflict. I wondered at the morality of being a tourist while people are suffering.

I researched and reached out to students and professors in Israel. I couldn’t stop the voice in my head that said, “If you don’t go now, you might not ever go.”

So, I made my plans. Booked my flights. Found Air bnb’s to stay in.

Today, a permanent cease fire was announced. I hope it lasts.

Why Jerusalem? I want to see what it’s like, this city of holiness with its strange population of symbiotic tension. I want to see ancient sites and eat strange foods. I want to see the tiles on the Dome of the Rock and the art of the Holy Sepulcher. I want to stand at the top of the Mount of Olives and walk the path of Jesus. (or at least what they say was the path of Jesus). I want to be in awe of a physical place on the earth. I want to buy weird, overpriced trinkets and stuff them in my carry-on. I want to sit at a cafe and listen to people speak languages I don’t understand.

The truth is, I’m afraid of what comes next or that anything will come next. I think maybe I’m running away for a couple of weeks hoping the answers will be here when I come back. I think I’m hoping that if I go and see extraordinary things, I will be able to create an extraordinary life for myself.

A foolish notion, perhaps. If nothing else, I’ll come back with some great photos, a new magnet for the fridge and maybe a glow-in-the dark crucifix.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s