Jerusalem is beyond my capacity to describe adequately. It is all the colors of life. It is the color of plants I cannot identify. It is the color of the human spirit, beyond any particular faith. The color of that spirit is that of joy, faith, pain, longing and even anger.
It is flowers. It is signs. It is faces. It is Christians. It is Muslims. It is Jews. It is Druze. It is Bedouin. It is tourists from every continent and faith. Even the Mormons are here. This most American of faiths has a world headquarters here (built on the condition that they do not try to make converts).
There were moments during the recent Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Centennial Mission where the colors of emotion took on a life of their own.
When 12 wonderful young people celebrated their bar and bat mitzvahs in a garden at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion campus, reading Torah, saying prayers, teaching Torah the color of Jewish life wells up from within.
There are tears, not only of pride in a young person’s growth and accomplishment, but in awe of the place and the connection being made at that moment. Overlooking the Old City, sun glinting off walls, blue sky, tinged with clouds. It is the color of the heart, the heart of family brought together over years and miles, struggles and fears, joys and hopes.
On top of the Temple Mount, looking at the Golden Dome of the Mosque of Omar and turning to see the gaunt grey of the Al Aksa Mosque, seeing the teeming of Muslim life, there is color. Boys playing soccer, men studying Koran, women bustling by, all swathed in green, the deep green of the Islamic faith. Someone in our group commented how calm it was up there. And all I could respond was that it was calm enough at the moment, until the moment it wouldn’t be calm any more. The color of the flashing of a match stick, flaring into flame. The color of children’s smiles and pent up tensions. These, too, are colors of Jerusalem.
In Dormitian Abbey, home of those who believe that their beloved Mother Mary is not dead, but merely sleeping (“dormir” is French, meaning “to sleep), there are rich, dark woods, and smooth, off white stone. Unlike the incredible human noise of tourists and yeshiva students in the Jewish Quarter and the buying and selling in Arab Quarter market, Dormition Abbey is so quiet, the silence has a texture and color. The only voices one hears are muted whispers. It is the color of respect, faith and patience, a patience that literally stops my heart.
The newer part of the Jerusalem has a unique color on Saturday night, right after Shabbat has ended. One stands on Ben Yehuda Street, where ALL the tourists go and you see waves of them coming minute by minute as the velvet, purple darkness descends on the city. The colorful sounds of the 30 person Korean choir, accompanied by four guitars, singing Christian faith to oblivious Jewish college kids on Birthright Israel tours. It is the color of cacophony.
The wonderful, 7 minute animated film shown in the Tower of David Museum just inside Jaffa Gate teaches that no single power has ever maintained control Jerusalem for more than 250 years out of the last 2,500. Israel is 65 years into its quarter millennium. All the colors of the spectrum, including those we human beings cannot even see, are here, now.
A wonderful, beautiful, tension-filled, history-burdened city.
If I ever did move to Israel, I would live here. But I understand those leaving for Tel Aviv, for Haifa, for Rishon LeZion, for Hadera, for Netanya and for Rehovot. They all say that the colors are too bright, the contrasts are too stark, the emotions are too raw, the intensity is too much for daily life.
It is modern. It is ancient. It is black and white. It is a veritable “pop of color.”
I imagine that you can get dizzy staring into a kaleidoscope. Imagine living inside one of color, history, and the depth of human experience.
This is Jerusalem.