Last week, I noticed a tiny fly in my bathroom. After a few attempts to hasten his journey to Olam Haba, one of which ended with me slapping the mirror so hard it came off the wall, I decided to let him be. By the end of the week, I looked forward to seeing him. He would often land on the mirror, and sit patiently as I preened. I imagined he was preening too. I thought about our different perspectives, and about the swat-to-sweet shift in my attitude towards him.
Adopting a different point of view has never been easier, thanks to the arrival of my Xootr. Laugh all you want – this thing is amazing. It is, according to Time magazine, “the Rolls Royce of scooters.”
The first thing I did on the Xootr was wipe out.
I was riding down Keren HaYesod on my way to attend a lecture at the Conservative Yeshiva. A guy going the opposite direction on his bike passed by. I’m not saying he was good-looking or anything, and I’m certainly not saying that I stopped looking at the road to look at this guy. Let’s just say I somehow missed the curb and landed – splat! – on the pavement in front of the Avi Chai Foundation.
One bruised ego later, I sat listening to Ran Melamed’s lecture, contemplating the tear in my pants and the gash on my knee. Melamed is the Deputy Director of Social Policy and Communication for Yedid, an organization that works to promote social and economic justice in Israel through a national network of centers in underprivileged and marginalized communities. I realized that whether by foot, bus, taxi, or Xootr, my perspective is limited. Do I see the tens of thousands of Israelis who, according to recent statistics, joined the hundreds of thousands now living below the poverty line? Are they the beggars at the entrance to the Shuk, or the Ultra-Orthodox with ten children and no income? Or are they middle-class Israelis who recently lost their jobs, and suddenly can’t pay their mortgage?
Melamed’s lecture was the opening program for a fantastic weekend tiyul designed to provoke these questions. Together, students from JTS and the Ziegler Rabbinical School in Los Angeles traveled south to the Negev. We spent Thursday learning with Atid Bamidbar, a non-profit community organization working to create opportunities for education, employment, tourism, and culture in the Negev region. We focused on what it means to be in Israel’s periphery when the majority of the population lives (and the majority of the economic opportunities exist) in the center. We discussed the concept of desert in Jewish text, Jewish thought, and Jewish life. Is the desert a place of solitude or community? Desperation or revelation? Vacuousness or vitality? Depending on your perspective, the desert is all of these things.
From Yerucham, we continued on to Sde Boker, famous for being David Ben-Gurion’s home and burial site. With a full moon as our flashlight, we hiked through a river valley cut through the desert rock by winter flash floods. Everything was a shade of moonlit gray – the shadows appeared closer underfoot than the rock. On Friday, we woke and prayed in the pink-blue morning before touring the area’s historical and cultural sites. Our program concluded near Ben-Gurion’s grave, overlooking desert and canyon, a startling relief of sepia against cloudless blue. We prepared for Shabbat, and spent an amazing twenty-five hours learning, praying, eating, and laughing together before piling back on the bus and returning to Jerusalem Saturday night.
Even though the desert towns we visited are only a few hours south of Jerusalem, they feel like they are in the middle of nowhere. I spent the weekend trying to recenter myself, imagining that I could, if I only changed my point of view, let south be center, and Jerusalem its periphery.
But the week’s most dramatic shift of perspective was still to come.
On Monday afternoon, our class went to the Temple Mount. I have been to the Old City and the Western Wall more times than I can count. I have seen, from various angles and locations in Jerusalem, the stunning panorama of the city center. In each case, the vista is either centered around or dominated by the glittering gold hemisphere of the Dome of the Rock. That the significance of the Dome of the Rock depends entirely upon a particular point of view is nothing new. But standing at the foot of the Dome of the Rock after so many years of viewing it from afar made me realize that I need to reconsider how I see this city, and where I see myself in it. The Temple Mount is peaceful, and the plateau of stone surrounding the Dome invites visitors to contemplate the whole of Jerusalem, east and west, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. Walls of blue and white mosaic rise from the stone as if they were planted there, vines of tile blossoming into gold. I felt small, but I did not feel shallow. I felt full and calm, and serene in a way one rarely feels in Jerusalem. And I felt an overwhelming sense of possibility. At the epicenter of so much controversy and strife, I stood in the shadow of the dome and believed with my whole self that anything is possible because God dwells here still, in this place, among all of us.
It is Sunday now. My 29th birthday. I know another week has passed in Jerusalem because I feel entirely different. In Jerusalem, on your birthday, if you are lucky, you realize you have received a great gift – and it all starts with smacking a mirror. The mirror falls, your perspective shifts, and you realize you don’t want to kill that fly after all. You see things as they were, as they are, and maybe, just maybe, as they could be.