If I Forget Thee, O Jerusalem.
The magic of Jerusalem can pull your heartstrings.
For those of you who have been blessed to walk or sleep or pray in the holy city of Jerusalem, you know her magic. It isn’t a myth or some children’s fable. Jerusalem’s magic is a truth that lingers on the lips of anyone who has breathed her sweet air. It’s a magic that follows you for years – even decades – whispering, calling, pulling at you.
It may have been just a few moons or what feels like a lifetime since you’ve walked through her narrow alleyways, or haggled over the price of a slim brass candlestick with the local merchant who is leathered from the sun. Maybe it was just last summer or maybe you were only a small child when you last kissed the cool stones of the Western Wall.
But when you find your stillness, when you close your eyes and just hear your breath, you can feel her magic warm your veins. You remember her touch, the way the stones feel under your fingertips: smooth and bumpy, cool and warm.
And you can hear her. Even on the shores of distant islands. Even under the rumbling of computer printers and deadline pressures. Even with overtired, cranky children and daily life. You hear her. The music of the marketplace, bustling and bursting with the frenzy of life and the pulse of her people. The shrill call of the shofar blowing over her ripe green hills. The old beggar woman, toothless and tired, shaking her paper coffee cup on the steps of the Old City leading down to the Kotel, jiggling her few coins, eyes pleading.
You can hear the ambulance sirens that pierce the air, that stop your heart, tight in your chest, even for a few seconds. And the other siren, the one that makes you smile every Friday before sundown, reminding you that the Shabbat Queen is arriving in 10 short minutes. You can hear the patter of children’s feet running on the courtyard stones under the mosaic of dry olive branches. And the sound that tears, and prayer, and belonging, and true Godly devotion make. Because you have seen it first-hand in the faces of your brothers and sisters pressed tight against the Kotel, hearts and souls spilled open.
And when you pray, wherever you find yourself, and say the word Yerushalayim, you can feel your soul being pulled over oceans and country sides, being drawn back through her narrow golden alleys. You hear her. The ancient Hebrew language of our people and the sacred words of our Torah echoing from the clay rooftops and whispering through the leaves of the sweet pomegranate trees.
And you can smell her. You can smell the fresh laffas and pitas – you know, the ones that just came out of the brick oven bubbling and beige, soft and salty. For this bread is the smell of Jerusalem: warm and intoxicating and welcoming. And you can smell the orange blossoms on a hot, sticky August night carried in the thick summer air, sweet and delicate.
Yes, you know. You know the magic of Jerusalem. How it can pull and play with your heartstrings. How it can both fill you and yet leave you empty with longing. How it can devastate you when it’s bleeding and hurting. How its magic can reach you even if you are flipped upside down on the other side of the planet swimming the blue waves of The Great Barrier Reef. Or sitting at your office desk in a Manhattan skyscraper.
Her magic, like your shadow, is always with you, growing stronger and larger from her luminescent light.
Oh, how we have loved and lost and laughed and prayed and dreamed and cried and lived a lifetime and more on her golden cobblestones. Under her arches. On her soft, green, mossy hills. In her sunlit alleyways.
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem…
This article originally appeared in the Jewish Link