Jerusalem, here I am –
By Ewaen Osarenren
(Culled from the Weekend Concord, January 8, 1994)
From Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, we drove straight to Jerusalem, a journey of about 45 minutes. Seeing the city spread out on rolling hills the poem Ibadan by J.P. Clark came to mind immediately:
Running splash of rust and gold
Flung and scattered
Among seven hills
Like broken China in the sun.
Recalling this poem notwithstanding, Ibadan does not in any way come close to the layout of Jerusalem. The only link I saw was the hilly topography of both cities and the idea of brilliance conveyed by the words
“gold” and “broken China in the sun.” Not more.
Jerusalem is neither a “running splash of rust” nor is it “flung and scattered.” This city of ageless splendour, regarded by the Jews as the capital of Israel, is a splash of silver and diamond among several hills and glittering in the sun. It is a glistering jewel, like the diamond it produces. Sixty per cent of the world's diamond jewelry comes from Israel.
First, Jerusalem is planned, alluring, modern, neat. Then, it is a white city largely from the lime stones and granite with which houses are constructed. A building code prohibits painting of exterior walls. And because these natural rocks are whitish in colour, they reflect. Moreover, Jerusalem is a rolling city built on valleys, slopes and hill tops, many of which are still called mountains. But age, weathering and wars have all reduced all the mountains to hills and hillocks. There is the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus Christ ascended into heaven and the place where his feet will touch down at his second coming. Mount Scopus is the site of the Hebrew University, while Mount Herzl is where the National Museum is built.
Within the walled old city of Jerusalem are Mount Zion, Mount Acra, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Mount Moriah where the Mosque of Omar now stands and Mount Bezetha along which is the Via Dolorosa, the way Jesus took carrying the heavy cross of his crucifixion.
Jerusalem clearly calls to mind the statement in the Bible which says a city built on a hill cannot be hidden. The city brings to life all the fertile imageries of the Scripture. Besides, the buildings are uniformly flat- topped, of moderate height with no skyscrapers, radiating especially in the sun on several hilltops and slopes. The streets are clean and wide, not littered with debris and no smell of urine and putrefaction, no foul smell from burning dump sites. The beauty of Jerusalem lies in this uniformity, cleanliness of the streets, whiteness, creating an impression of softness, soberness, hallowness, ethereal, almost celestial.
See this city and you'll wonder like I did: “If the earthly Jerusalem is such a splendour, what will the heavenly Jerusalem be like?” The physical beauty aside, Jerusalem emits a spiritual glow both from the ability of the government to mould an orderly society and from the historic significance as a triple holy city—to the Jews, the Christians and lastly to Muslims. Apart from the occasional activities of terrorists, Jerusalem is not a violent society. No organized crimes like car snatching in broad daylight, area boys, burglary, armed robbery, rape, arson and looting. There are no red-light districts, no strip tease parading the street late at night, searching for customers! It is not a degenerate society. It is largely prudent. But this does not mean that there are no men with roving eyes. They would blow kisses in your direction as you bargain for lower prices in shops with promises of giving you very reasonable prices, if only you'll agree to keep their company later in the day! Smart guys!
The small population of 5.2 million occupies a land area of 34,593 square miles. The population keeps expanding fairly rapidly by the day as Jews from different parts of the world are encouraged to return home. The Jews are in the majority, about 81.9 percent of the total population. This is followed by the Muslims (13.9 percent), Christians (2.4 percent), the Druze (1.7 percent) and a small community of Bahais. At the time of the pilgrimage, about 150 Yemeni Jews were being received to the utmost joy of all Israeli Jews. In the recent times, about 700,000 Jews have returned from Russia, while 150,000 came from Ethiopia. Houses are continually being constructed to accommodate these returnees. And in emergencies, caravans are provided as temporary homes. Each person gets 7,000 shekels (about 2,500 dollars) for a start. When this money is finished, he either gets a job or social welfare.
The tourist guide, Madeleine Byk is very proud of the State of Israel. “We have many doctors,” she says. “In fact we have more doctors than patients. And so, you find some doctors taking up other jobs.” Diamond is the largest industry followed by tourism. The third place is taken by agriculture, export of citrus fruit and flower. For pilgrims and tourists, there is hardly any distinction. Each group ends up visiting the same places, whether of spiritual, historic or political significance. Some Christian pilgrims go to Israel to be baptized in the River Jordan, on the spot John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ. One of the pilgrims in our team, John Dara, got baptized in the River Jordan by an Arab priest. We were all happy for him. Some others visit Israel to get married at a church in Cana in the northern part, built on the site Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine during a marriage feast. They feel their marriage will attract special blessings from God.
The name Jerusalem has often been translated as the “City of peace.” To the Muslim, Jerusalem is a holy city. It has the Dome of the Rock, commonly called the Mosque of Omar. Inside the mosque is the sacred Rock on which Muslims believe Prophet Mohammed made his ascension to heaven. To the Jews the significance of Jerusalem dates back to the time of King David. For almost centuries, it was the capital of the kings of Israel and Judah. One of the most significant places is the western wall, the holiest spot in the Jewish world today. It is the remnant of the ancient wall which surrounded the Temple of Solomon. The Jews take the wall as sacred, a place they cry and pray to Jehovah. Jews go to the western wall, stick written prayer requests in the cracks on the wall, pray and wail. And this has earned the wall the name “Wailing Wall.” Within the walled city of Jerusalem is also Mount Zion, on which the ancient city of David was built. Today on Mount Zion are the tombs of King David and those of the kings who reigned after him. The Jews so value King David that David is the most popular and revered name in the state. The best hotel is called King David Hotel. One of the finest roads is King David Street.
In Jerusalem too is the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascended into heaven and where his feet shall touch down on the second coming. Some of us tried to figure out the exact spot Jesus must have stood before he ascended into heaven.