Jerusalem; sadness or hope?

For traditional Jews, this is a sad time of year. They recall the destruction by Babylon and then by Rome of the Jerusalem Temples, on the same calendar date. The book of Lamentations is read, where the opening verses set the tone of mourning: –

Alas – she sits in solitude. The city that was great with people has become like a widow. The greatest among nations, the princess among provinces, has become a tributary.

For all Jerusalem’s stature amongst nations, it has continued to find pain in history. The stories are many.

After Rome left, the crusaders brought new wars. The Turks ran the city into poverty at the turn of the previous century. And in the past decade, the inhumanities of the Intifada and homicide bombing have created hundreds of bereaved families from all ethnic backgrounds.

As deemed by rabbis hundreds of years ago, the suffering is commemorated through a 25 hour fast.

In the same breath, Jerusalem – old and modern – is an amazing place. New visitors are consistently amazed and awakened at its contrasts and beauty. When I take guests around the Old City, I lead them out of Jewish Quarter, which then opens out towards the Temple Mount; a stunning, unravelling view pulling together 3 major religions and thousands of years in one gaze.

It was my wife, who helped me to place all this history in perspective. She is an avid fan of a Jerusalem bike club, which hits the streets every Tuesday evening. It is run by Nitzan from his bike shop on Jaffa Street.

And every Wednesday morning, she rightly describes every detail with a thrill that few of us achieve from other activities. But this week was something special. They were over 50 in total, whose backgrounds included tourists and a foreign film crew.

The ride took them along the northern ridge of Mount Scopus, around the old campus of the university. They progressed through the holy Mount of Olives, where they saw loads of Arab weddings, celebrating with fireworks. They rode down through Gethsemane – despite the late hour, pilgrims were pouring in. And towards the end, they drove in formation along a new bridge at the entrance to the city.

Lamentations, as probably written by the prophet Jeremiah, ends with a message of hope, a call to renew and to return to the days of old. Jerusalem asks people to recall the past in order to learn how to create a future of joy, a future where everyone can live together in peace and in honour.

I feel that it is that hope that my wife was blessed to witness on Tuesday.

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