Wherever you look in Jerusalem the buildings are made of or at least faced with Jerusalem Stone, the local limestone, or sometimes what is called dolomite or dolomitic limestone. (For your next round of Trivial Pursuits, dolomite is named for the French mineralogist Deodat de Dolomieu, who discovered it).
Jerusalem Stone is quarried in half a dozen or more grades, and it is all you see around you as you walk these ancient streets, or as you gaze down from whatever hotel room you happen to be in this time around, surrounded by buildings ancient, old, new, and under construction. The stone is a subtle yellow. You might even say it is blonde, with rose highlights. To me it is mellow yellow tinged with flesh tones. And whenever the sun rises or sets upon this, the City of Cities, it is indeed what the song says, “Yerushalayim shel zahav,” “Jerusalem of Gold.”
But there is another gold that surrounds one in Jerusalem, stirring the heart to fruitful introspection. This is the gold of intoxicated love of God. It surrounds you everywhere. On my last trip there this gold shone brightest on shabbat when car traffic ceases or nearly so, when couples, families, individuals, groups, people of all ages and nations of origin could be seen walking to and from services, or going off to spend shabbat with friends and family. The faces of people, their postures, the way they are dressed—all carry rich histories—stories within stories within stories of how they got here, why they came, what drove them here, keeps them here, delights them here in this holy place. The older the face, the more interesting to me. And if you are fortunate enough to hear their stories, you find yourself taken down into the depths of meaningful living.
One of the faces I saw most closely was that of a hasidic Jew, full grey beard, black hat, black coat, surrounded by holy books, the works. For over forty years Aaron has lived in and around the neighborhood known as Meah Shearim, the most orthodox of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods. A delightful man with nearly forty grandchildren, he loves God, and somewhere along the way, has come to see Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah. His eyes glow, he smiles constantly. He is a man full of stories, and utterly committed to the communal life of a black hat orthodox Jew. This is a man of personal relationships, a man who finds the Jewish path of holiness to be the best way to live and the best way to die. He doesn’t have much money, but you may never have met anyone so rich. And of course, he is but one of a breed.
And then there’s Mendel, who drove me back to Ben Gurion airport for my return trip to the States. I would guess him to have been about 48, full beard, under his breath singing songs of praise to God. Where else does it happen that shuttle drivers behave this way? Or the woman on my El Al flight to L.A., lips moving, reading through the entire Book of Psalms in Hebrew as part of her flight to the Unites States. She knew what even the pilot may not have known: that ultimately it wasn’t air currents and aerodynamics that kept the plane safe at 30,000 feet. No, not that at all. Rather, underneath were the everlasting arms, and ultimately it is the faithful God to whom she prayed who kept us aloft on an ocean of air, and Israel afloat on a sea of troubles.
Some will point to spots of tarnish on the gold of Jewish Jerusalem. They are of course right—the gold is tarnished in places, sometimes deeply so. But it doesn’t take much to rub the gold a bit and bring out its native beauty.
If you haven’t been there, you really must go. Bring your walking shoes. Stay a while. Stop, look and listen. Above all, read and pray. You may sense, as I do, that the eyes of God gaze down upon you there, and that each visit provides a spiritual MRI, free of charge.
Jerusalem. City of Gold. City of God. The Go-to City.