This week's portion: travelogue
Lamentations Rabbah: demanding God's mercy

So long; farewell

"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to." -- Bilbo Baggins, in The Hobbit

I feel like it's been years since I left home. And I feel like it's been a mere eyeblink, no time at all. Fortunately for me, I've gotten a lot of experience this summer at feeling two (or more) things at once.

The primary thing I've learned about Jerusalem is that it's always more complicated than one might imagine. Even the topography is complicated. Every place seems to be at least two things at once: where the Dome of the Rock now stands is where the Temple once stood. Where a house now stands, an orchard once stood. Where a pile of rubble now stands, a house once stood. Every place means something to somebody -- usually to at least two somebodies who don't agree. Even maps have an agenda, because if a map is using one set of names, it's not using the others. Nothing here is simple.

Several people told me, before I came here, that everything is more intense in Jerusalem. That this place is a lens which focuses and heightens emotions, that it's an energy vortex of some kind. Who knows whether or not this is true? But I can tell you that my summer here has been intense indeed. Maybe because I've been away from home, and that heightens perceptions; maybe because I've been awash in new and overwhelming experiences. Maybe because this place has its own unique spiritual energy -- though whether inherent, or accrued over millennia of intention and prayer, I couldn't say.

Things I've loved: hearing the sound of Hebrew everywhere I go, like my ears are perennially praying, even when the words that enter them are mundane ones. Hearing the sound of Arabic in the marketplace. Encountering people who are different from me, and people with whom I have deep things in common. The landscape and the history. The evening light. The idealism.

Things I haven't loved: how Orthodoxy dominates the religious landscape. The bitterness and mistrust between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians. How the forms of Judaism that feed my soul are so clearly on the fringe of the Israeli religious system. That there is an Israeli religious system -- I can't quite get used to my religion being the state religion, a system of power.

Being here has been sweet, and I hope never to forget that. Living with this wonderful family of friends; spending every day learning; evening walks to the windmill or the edge of the Old City, watching the late light gild the buildings pink and gold. My first Shabbat with the Leader minyan. My first Shabbat with Reb Ruth and Nava Tehila. Reading poems in Hebrew, the language slowly beginning to open itself to me. (It's such a dense and rich language. Every word has ten others hidden inside it.) Davening kabbalat Shabbat at the edge of the sea. Sipping cardamom-scented coffee beneath a tent on Abed's land, clapping along with the drum and the oud.

Being here has been difficult, and I hope never to forget that either. Spending almost two months away from my sweetheart. Bumping up against other people's expectations of what my experience ought to be. My day trip with ICAHD and my day trip to the West Bank, confronting the painful realities of the Occupation. Two attacks with construction equipment during my stay here, one right around the corner from my apartment. The trade of Samir Kuntar, and many others, for the bodies of Goldwasser and Regev. Sometimes I think everyone here has PTSD. Sometimes I wasn't able to feel very hopeful.

In the end, I've experienced so much I can hardly believe it. My brain feels full, my heart feels full. I know I'll be drawing on this experience for years in my writing, my divrei Torah, my prayers. And at the same time, I've experienced so little it's almost laughable. There are places I meant to daven where I never managed to set foot in the door; weekend trips I never managed to take; restaurants I never managed to try.

I think it's good that I'm leaving Jerusalem with a sense of unfinished business. Some part of me is already imagining my next visit, picturing how different it will feel to arrive in Jerusalem now that I know the city a little. Now that I have favorite places to walk, to eat, to daven. Now that I know people who live here who are working to transform the Israeli rabbanut, who are working to transform the peace process, who are working toward healing this particular piece of the broken world. But right now isn't the time to be planning my return. That can wait. Right now it's time to learn how to inhabit my ordinary life again, and to begin the long work of integrating my Jerusalem summer into my life in a way that will be fruitful.

I want to thank all of you for coming along for the ride, for reading my posts and my emails and my poems, and for your emails and comments and phone calls during my time here. It's been a privilege and a pleasure to share this Jerusalem journey with you.

The Tolkien quote at the top of this post came before my eyes the first day I was in Jerusalem, and I copied it into my journal and onto my computer screen. It's been on my desktop ever since. When I came here, I didn't exactly know where I was being swept off to. I'm grateful for the journey, grateful for the learning, grateful for what's been good and for what's been hard. And now I'm grateful to be -- soon! very soon! -- going home.

I'm leaving Jerusalem today. I'll spend my final Israeli Shabbat in Tel Aviv with friends, and then I'm flying home. I expect this to be my last blog post from Israel; see y'all on the flipside next week!

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