You don’t know who I am, but I was privileged to live within your holy boundaries for the last four years. Those four years have been the most momentous and perhaps tumultuous of my life: they are the years of my teshuva, my return to, or perhaps not so much a return to, as a journey towards, G-d.
It all started with you, dear Jerusalem. A visit to the Kotel for a secular family bar mitzvah, a barely covered head, my husband holding us up for the reception as he prayed the morning prayers that were delayed by the notorious Jerusalem traffic; my tear-filled plea to feel something, ANYTHING, as I was surrounded by tourists and locals of all stripes and colours swaying, whispering, sobbing and simply awestricken. Why didn’t I feel the same?
And then it happened. Your ancient stones were awakened by my heartfelt desire to belong, and they came alive for me as they have for so many thousands in as many years. Your smooth, cool surface became warm with my breath as I, too, joined the throngs of whisperers, feeling, crying, suddenly overcome. Suddenly KNOWING, with certainty, that the Divine Presence, the Shechina, was right there with me. I didn’t want to leave.
Oh Jerusalem, you were listening. Within a few months we had transplanted ourselves from the center of suburban Israel to the center of the Universe: The Old City of Jerusalem. In a glorious twist of irony and faith, I, of all stubbornly intellectual and resistant people, ended up in the Palace of the King. It was Heavenly. It was not for long.
For one intense year, we were granted a seat in the most spiritual show on earth. The Shabbat strolls to the Kotel with our children, meandering the alleyways for milk and bread, immersing myself in the mikve amongst the angels of this ancient treasure: these daily pleasures were almost too much for someone like me.
But the highlight, the absolute zenith of which there can be no compare, was sitting amongst the masses of mourners on Tisha B’av, as one who had returned and now lived. How does one express the gratitude of meriting a united and thriving Jerusalem, when so many more righteous and deserving were denied? How does one come to terms with the conflicting feelings of devastation and loss with absolute joy? How does one squash the pride in being “chosen” at the same time as connecting to the humility and sense of responsibility in the awesome task of being a resident of the Old City of Jerusalem? In this, I may have failed.
Ah, Jerusalem. After one uplifted year, we had to leave your womb, our spiritual incubator, pack up our lessons learned and cut the umbilical cord to enter life amongst your suburbs. Thrust almost by force and clear Divine Intervention into arguably the most famous neighborhood of all, we began Stage Two in your midst: Life In Mea Shearim.
Thrown amongst a new throng – this time serious-faced, stocking-clad, fast-moving Chassidim , both generations-old and newly minted – we wondered what would be the outcome of our time there, and how long it would last, or more to the point: how long WE would last. If leaving the Old City had been traumatic, nothing prepared me for my first Tisha B’av outside your historic walls. It was traumatic in that I had barely given you pause for thought until the day of mourning was almost upon me. Only a miracle in personal prayer saved me and Hashem’s whispered prompting brought down a fresh, burning flood of tears: this time of true mourning since I was no longer living and breathing in the Heart of the World.
And now, my precious Jerusalem, three years and three new Jerusalem-born souls and sons later, I sit and write you this letter from my new home, back in the physical center of the country, back almost from where I came, a mere hairsbreadth away, as Rebbe Nachman would say. So much has transpired, and so much has come full-circle. Yet the changes are enormous, so enormous, I almost forgot to mourn my leaving of your protective borders.
Jerualem, our home and our soul, I took you for granted. As much as I wanted to stay, perhaps I didn’t pray hard enough and now Hashem has other plans for me. I can’t allow myself to fall into sadness over this thought, however, for who knows Hashem’s ways: but this Tisha Be’av, I will once again cry for you, and my fresh loss.
Yet now, perhaps I can see all this as my gain: for having tasted your sweetness, Jerusalem, having lived and breathed your holiness – even when engaging in secular pursuits – has imbued me with a deeper sense of what it must have meant to lose you, for all of us. Tisha Be’av will forever have, I pray, deeper meaning for me, since I have now lost you twice: once thousands of years ago, in another life: and today.
Until I had lived within your embrace, Jerusalem, I am ashamed to say that I didn’t truly appreciate your value. Now that I have loved, lost and learned: you have presented me with a most precious parting gift that I will treasure for myself, and, perhaps by writing you this letter, I will be able to share with others.
The gift of mourning your destruction.
With love and tears,
Your former resident