The Feeling of Jerusalem

The energy of these stones has provided the nourishment for many generations of the Jewish people, for all those who keep Jerusalem in their hearts as the nucleus of their universe.

There is no other sensation in the world like the one when one’s hand is touching those warm, wise stones; the stones which are speaking to you; one to one.

Unique sensation
The first time I visited Jerusalem about thirty ago, in the end of 1980s, on the occasion of the Jerusalem Festival. My husband and I, both working in theatre at the time, were participating in it together with our good friends from a legendary Taganka theatre. It was the first ever visit to Israel for them as well, and we all were trembling of excitement and disbelief at being on Israeli soil.

Staying at the terrace of the Teatron Yerushalaim, we were looking around on the panorama of Jerusalem and its hills. It was a sunset time, and the next day for Jewish people was to begin soon.

I lost the sense of time at the moment being completely taken by strong and clear sensation: the place where we were lucky to stay was absolutely extra-ordinary, it was as if it had been held above the earth and held upward by a superior power. It had a very distinct magnetism, gentle, but extremely firm. And most importantly, time has no power over it.

The Feeling of Jerusalem is the sort of a sensation which transforms into conviction and which changes one’s life forever.

There are many Tel-Avivs on this planet, but there is only one Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, Jerusalem, to me, has never been a city – it is the Place. The unique, blessed Place of re-assuring power and one’s belonging.

The Talmud provides straightforward explanation for this: the centre of Israel is Jerusalem; the centre of Jerusalem is the Temple; the centre of Temple is the Holy of Hollies.

The Wonders of the Tunnels

We have explored the Temple Tunnel many times, at different times of day and night and various seasons. And couple of times we were extremely privileged to be present at the place which is just ninety meters from the Holly of Hollies. The place which is the holiest one for the Jewish nation is quite simple, but it is appropriately adorned with many praying books around, a few chairs, and a couple of rows of seats. Everything there is unpretentiously gracious and just incredibly calm.

Under the wall (Inna Rogatchi)

There are some other wonders and treasures of the Jewish world in that tunnel – such as Giant Stones, there are two of them, which are reportedly the largest stones in the world applied in the history of construction. People are so small staying next to the solid parts of the Wall which are of 55 and 45 thousand tons of weight each, correspondently. But as small as we are next to these stones, we do feel their warmth – which is wondrous given the fact that they are staying erected from the Second Temple period, and are under the level of earth for thousands of years by now.

In the Tunnel, one can also see the place where the Western Wall really ends, and one realizes, happily, that the Wall – and our strength emanated by it – is substantially longer than the visible part, those precious 87,5 meters at the Temple Plaza today.

Among the wonders of the Tunnel, we can also see the part of the authentic, original street from the Second Temple period, – and one just close of losing one’s mind trying to comprehend that we are able to touch and to be present among the stones which were witnessing and were the part of life in Jerusalem at the time of the Second Temple.

When examining the stones of Jerusalem, one can get as close as it gets, to the real understanding of what Talmud means when it is says that stones have their own soul, too. Stones accumulate the energy of people and their emotions throughout the time. This energy does not disappear. It stays in stones. And  it is never gets deeper than it does in the stones of Jerusalem.

In the Temple Tunnel, there is a very special place. I never saw anything like it in the world. In the same hall called The Hall of Epochs by the Temple Heritage Foundation, there are physical stones, architectural details, and art-facts from five epochs: the floor from the period of the First Temple, the stones from the Second Temple period; a column and pillars from the Hellenistic time; the arches from the Hashmonean period; and corridors from the Roman rule time, – all of it in the same physical space of not that large hall.

I do not know the more convincing projection of Time in its physicality. This place where the excavations are under way and which is planned to be opened to the public in a near future, is the best preservation of the history I know.

When the Silver Thread becomes the Golden Bowl

And to make history alive, the Bar-Mitzvah ceremonies for Jewish boys are organized regularly in the Tunnel today by the Temple Heritage Foundation. Significantly, many of those boys are orphans and the ones from underprivileged families. This is what I call the Silver Thread – or the Silver Cord as it  often translated from Ecclesiastes – “Remember Him before the silver cord is broken ( and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed), ( Ecclesiastes 12:6).

Making my way through the Muslim Quarter, as it is the only way on the way out of the Temple Tunnel, I remembered that it has been only one documented episode in the entire Jewish-Arab history where there was Arab and Jewish unification on a certain issue. And what was the issue? Back in early 20th century, between 1907 and 1914, there were scandalous and farcical escapades of the bunch of British aristocrats led by Monty Parker, to excavate in the heart of Jerusalem to recover nothing less than the Arch of Covenant. They efficiently bribed the Turkish officials who were administrating Jerusalem at the time, and they went for unauthorized excavations hiding what they were doing in the most hilarious way. When the word went out that the Brits are after the Arch, Jews and Arabs of Jerusalem united in the fierce riots against the illegal exercises of Monty Parker’s ‘brigade’ and made him to flee for his life. The reason of that unique unification does tell a lot.

At the junction where Muslim Quarter comes to Temple Plaza, there is another remarkable place, the Ohel Yitzhak Synagogue, which was destroyed by Jordan to its foundation – the same as Hurva  Synagogue was – in 1948, but which is under well advanced restoration today. The synagogue formerly was the Synagogue of Hungarian Jewry and was built in 1870s. It is back to life now and is very light, gracious and beautiful. It is expected to open its doors for the people soon; but already now we saw the IDF soldiers with their officers there, with some of them able to pray at the quiet and inviting place.

Importantly, there is a special program for the IDF soldiers carried on by the Temple Heritage Foundation, getting them familiar with the historical and spiritual legacy of our people in detail. We know the devoted people working there specifically with IDF soldiers, and are hearing their stories: ““I am living a bit too far from the Wall, 45 minutes walking, – says the one of them, young, bright and devoted Yishai Salomon.- On Shabbat eve, it is important for me to be at home by the time of the Shabbat dinner, of course; but if there is a group of Zahal soldiers around, I stay with them here, at the Wall. It is so important for them to sense it, to experience it alive. I know where the soldiers would be returning to after their prayers at the Wall. And for many of them, it is their first time here”, – says our good friend, able historian and keen archaeologist who is especially devoted to working with the IDF soldiers.

This is how the Ecclesiastic Silver Thread is becoming the Golden Bowl – without cracks.

Hopes implemented

The Oleh Yitzhak Synagogue re-birth story has happened before with the well known Hurva Synagogue, a crown of the Hurva Square today. From 2010 onward when was restored, finally, it is almost impossible to imagine that this central place of the Old City once looked very different, although the Hurva story is particularly painful and almost desperate during all years of existence of once largest Ashkenazi synagogue in Jerusalem.

But there is something particular even in despair when it comes to Jerusalem. More than 20 years ago, in early 1990s, the Hurva’s only surviving arch jumped into my husband’s and mine hearts and stayed there. There are symbols which become essential ones in ones’ life. Despite all the sorrow, that very arch meant our bridge to Jerusalem, for both of us; to the extent that Michael has painted his famous My Stones. Jerusalem painting, which now belong to the Art Collection of the Municipality of Jerusalem, alongside with famous works of Chagall and the other great Jewish masters who did love Israel and Jerusalem with all their heart.

Michael Rogatchi (C). My Stones. Jerusalem. Oil on canvas. 100 x 90 cm. 1993. Permanent Art Collection of the Municipality of Jerusalem. Israel.

Seventeen years after the completion of the Michael’s work, Hurva Synagogue was restored; and that time, I took my photography pictures and included one of them into The Route collection of fine art photography which has been inaugurated at the European Parliament in commemoration of the Day of Jerusalem there in May 2012, with the presence of the leadership of the European Parliament, the heads of states, and hundreds of people, – all of them singing the Gold of Jerusalem together, and many knowing the words.

And then we had united our artistic efforts and our love for Jerusalem and have created a unique art collage, existing in the only copy. In that work, the painted by Michael ruins and the Arch of Hurva are merged with my artistic photograph of the Hurva restored. The piece is entitled Hurva Return, and we donated it to the outstanding Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzki who has made the restoration of Hurva possible.

The whole Hurva miracle – yet another miracle which is an essential component of the Jewish existence – means for us hope, prevailing of life, connection between the generations of the Jewish people in the very heart of it, in Jerusalem.

This continuity is the main source of our overall hope, and at the same time, it is the ongoing process which brings the new qualities in new generations of Jewish people, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

The new and renewed Jerusalem

The modernity of Jerusalem is the same essential, from my point of view, as the preservation of its heritage.

We are very lucky indeed, to have among our close friends the people who were and are responsible for the developing of Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. I always am telling them that they are having the best work in the world. Being with them for a long time, I also know that this best work is incredibly demanding and challenging, from many points of view and many perspectives, and that is just incredibly hard. All eyes are on you and what you do; what’s decisions you are taking; how you are implementing it; and there is no mercy both from inside and outside Israel on every step and action taken in that very place on the earth.

I cannot tell you enough how happy and proud we are every time coming to Jerusalem to find the new things what are looming before our eyes: the new stylish residential areas in previously abandoned places; the magnificently restored Israel Museum complex, with museums which would make a super-pride to any country in the world. We are overwhelmed of the level and class of all sorts of efforts put into the renovated and new parts of Yad Vashem, with all delicacy and power of loving memory, with all that dedication and innovation brought into the place making our Jewish nation being proud and stern in the ability to remember. We are proud together with our Israeli friends on the opening of the new museums which are needed in the modern-day Jerusalem badly, such as the Friends of Zion Museum.

We love to get into the bustling Mamilla promenade where very walls are infusing the Paris – and better – atmosphere into the smart and elegant place where people never stopped of coming to at any time of day and night. We are glad to seeing all these new hotels which did manage to preserve the architecture, style and spirit of the historical roots of the places – as it has been done magnificently at the Waldorf, Mamilla and David Citadel complexes which are more than hotels, they are glorious land-marks of new – and renewed – Jerusalem. We are happy to ride a fast train throughout Jerusalem – and we know what it took to make that project possible; we just love to see the faces of the train passengers who all are very much enjoying the latest motto in the urban transportation fashion. This is not to mention how much do we love to go to the shuk, Mahane Yehuda unique market – but who does not, and this returns us happily to the old Jerusalem days.

So I do understand every bit of what people in Israel mean when they talk on ‘being a Jerusalemite’. It speaks to us in all it’s complexity and detail, and it melts our hearts. But keeps our mind sober and focused.

With Jerusalem in the desert of Gulag

There is no doubt in my mind that the initiative of Yoni Chetboun, the Knesset MP, supported by the group of MKs from different parties , on making the Day of Jerusalem a national holiday in Israel is absolutely right one. Our generation is lucky to remember the Day in 1967 when it had happened, when the historic justice prevailed due to the human courage and commitment.

My husband will never forget and remembers all his life when Jewish people exiled to the Soviet Gulag who were listening to the Voice of America secretly, risking their lives, were coming out to the streets in Kazakhstan crying out of joy “We’ve made the victory! We won! We won! Jerusalem is ours, back again!” ‘We’ – were crying of joy Jews exiled in nobody’s lands. We repeat their joy all the years since Iyar 28, 1967, all over the world.

And as for those who dare to call the Day of the unification of the capital of the Jewish nation ‘a holiday of occupation’ as do stalinistas of Meretz, I would highly recommend they buy a ticket to the North Korea or Cuba, to enjoy the life there.

Embracing ‘the whole Jerusalem’

My heart aches every time I pass the house where Israel patriots were hiding while fighting in underground in 1948. My heart jumps every time when I am privileged to hear our Psalms at the Great Synagogue with its magnificent, unbelievable, one in the world choir lead by Elli Jaffe. My heart stops when I feel the gentle but powerful push of the wind at every Shabbat we start at the Wall. That push of that wind signals us that the people of the nation are heard.

And I am thinking on Bella Chagall who was willing ‘to embrace the whole Jerusalem’ when she was five years old child sitting with her family in Vitebsk, thousands miles from it, – but knowing by her heart, the heart of a Jewish child, what Jerusalem is about.

About thirty years passed since my first acquaintance with Jerusalem, and our life has been stuffed with events. But I still remember and do feel the sensation of my personal discovering of Jerusalem three decades ago as if it was happening today. Probably, it was the main discovery in my entire life.

The Talmud provides the insight into the Secret of the Wall: according to it, there is a mirrored image of the Temple in the Heaven, and that entity keeps the Wall standing does not matter what. Yet more importantly, it transcends the Presence. Ultimately, it sustains all those millions in Israel and all over the world who are living by our connection to Jerusalem and its stones, both directly and metaphorically.

Both in the beginning and in the end of the day, Jerusalem is the only place in this world where a person can talk with the Creator directly.

By INNA ROGATCHI©,  2017 –

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This essay is from Inna Rogatchi’s The Feeling of Jerusalem brochure for her art photography exhibition (C) 2017, The Rogatchi Foundation.

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See also my Musical Video-Essay, Jerusalem. My Stones: Collection of the fine art photography works by Inna Rogatchi:

Inna Rogatchi

Posted by Inna Rogatchi

Dr Inna Rogatchi is a writer, scholar, film-director and fine art photographer. She is also a public figure and philanthropist. Inna is the author of internationally acclaimed film on Simon Wiesenthal The Lessons of Survival. Her recent project Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity has been inaugurated at the European Parliament and is on the world tour currently. Inna is the president of The Rogatchi Foundation, founder of Rogatchi Films, and co-founder and owner of The Rogatchi Art Gallery.

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