I spent six weeks this semester in Israel on an incredible study abroad opportunity. Within that sentence dwell so many experiences and ideas and people that I am just beginning to process. I’m sure more about it will trickle out, especially this summer when I actually have time to sit down and think.
I wrote this poem on one of my last days there. There’s a collection of songs the Jews used to sing every year as they journeyed to Jerusalem for Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. They’re called the Psalms of Ascent—Psalms 120-134—and they’re often subtitled “a song of ascent.” The last few days of my trip, I too journeyed to Jerusalem as part of a three-day hike from Emmaus (we slept in the little paradise town of Ein Karem each night, don’t be too impressed). We got up at 2:30 am on Palm Sunday and arrived in Jerusalem at dawn. It really is an ascent, a city on a hill you have to sweat and struggle to reach. When morning breaks over the Mount of Olives, though, it’s worth it.
The hike was a special pilgrimage comprised of Jews and Christians—Israelis, Palestinians, and foreigners like me—who were all preparing for our respective holy weeks. We talked about how both Pesach (Passover) and Easter start with oppression and end with an almost impossible deliverance. We shared a Shabbat dinner together, sang hymns together, and picnicked in the woods together. We talked about how what we were doing is a foretaste of the Messiah’s return (or first coming, if you’re a Jew). That’s what I felt united us most, this joyful but oh-so-distant expectation, this hope as we both faced the horizon that one day, one day, God will make all things new.
It’s a lot to take in, a lot to sift through. But like always, it helps me to summarize it in poem form, so here you go.
we pilgrimage and we practice, sweat beading our foreheads like an anointing we laugh beneath the shade of the fig tree we break the bread, we pass the wine we ask questions: of each other, of ourselves we walk and we wonder, rolling on our tongues the strange sweetness of this unity, sweeter than date honey, rarer than a summer stream we ask questions: of the hills, of the city we research and we rest, cradled by the confines of Shabbat like the birds in the palm trees, we teach our souls to sing a new song we ask questions: of the ruins, of the future outside the temple gates we wait and while we wait, we feast on salt and stories together, we turn our faces to the east and sing: David the king is alive דוד מלך ישראל חי חי וקיים
my photo of the wall of Jerusalem’s Old City
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