The city finally returned to normal since President Bush’s departure last Friday - well normal for Jerusalem anyway. During his visit, downtown resembled a cross between a ghost town and a police state. Citizens were nowhere to be found while 10,000 soldiers and police officers occupied the center of the city. It was truly stunning.
I couldn’t see a thing from my mirpeset on Thursday morning. It was dark and the fog was incredibly thick. The traffic was unbearable because the fog grounded the President’s helicopter and he had to drive to Ramallah for his day with Abu Mazen. The cab driver wanted to spare me the time so he asked if he could take an “an alternate” route. “Of course. Whatever will make this faster.” He turned into Abu Tor, a mixed Jewish – Arab neighborhood, into Silwan, through Wadi Joz and Sheikh Jarah until we reached French Hill and the University.
I had not driven through the above mentioned neighborhoods since 1983 on Ramah Israel Seminar. Back then, we visited churches, the Mount of Olives, etc. With the advent of Intifada II, however, visitation for the most part ended. I forgot how beautiful the view was, if, of course, you ignored the decrepit state of East Jerusalem. Baka-land this was not.
I could not help but notice that the “darkness, cloudiness, and fog” I was driving in was a foreshadowing of last week’s parashah. The penultimate plague, Darkness, is described in exactly those terms , words that indicate ambivalence and fear. Fog is deceptive. You never know what is beyond it – good or bad, safety or danger. And this is a foggy place and a foggy time in the Middle East. What does the future hold?
The optimist in me wants to tell you that suddenly, in the middle of class, I looked out the window and the fog was gone, the golden tiles of the Dome of the Rock blazed in the late morning sunlight atop the Temple Mount, a siman min hashamayim – a sign from Heaven – that Peace was possible, that it was in the offing, that something more immediate would come from the President’s visit. All of that, up to the Peace part, actually did happen. But then there were more rockets on Sderot, the fog started to return, and I was reminded that before the Exodus, there was the final plague, the death of the first born children of Egypt, a measure for measure consequence for Pharaoh’s decree against the first born male children of the House of Israel. Before radical reordering of the world came the painful death of children on all sides.
This part of the world has been in the” painful death of children” phase long enough. It is time to cross the major barrier, the Sea, and perceive what could be for all the children of this region in the future, the beauty and the glory and the life. It is time for all parties to learn from Pharaoh’s greatest limitation his inability to change, to see past what was in order to see what could be. In the end, Pharaoh couldn’t do it and he and his army were wiped out. But from that came a radical reordering. So to here, now. The stormy sea before us will consume those on all sides who cannot see what could be. And those who can will stand together and sing songs of Joy and Praise.
May we all be counted among their number, and soon…
Rabbi Loren Sykes