Izzi Tooinsky: What Jerusalem taught me
January 14, 2018
I was barely 16 when I first went to Jerusalem. I was by myself and far from my family and friends. I had been working close to Haifa on a large communal farm known as Kibbutz Gal'Ed.
One day I left the Kibbutz and made my way, for the first time, to Jerusalem. As I entered the old city two men caught my attention. One was a beggar. He was a blind, old, Arab with no eyeballs in his sockets. He stood with his cup out and watched a dark world go by. The other man stood about 20 yards from the first. He was a survivor of the holocaust who played mournful songs on a wheezing accordion. His face was stamped in a permanent state of grief.
I made my way through the narrow streets until I came to the Wailing Wall. I followed the slow stream of people who stepped close to the towering structure. Each one closed their eyes and began to pray.
I put my hands on the rough stones. I closed my eyes, and then it happened. The Wall spoke to me, or maybe it was Jerusalem herself. I don't know. I was thunderstruck. But the images and the message was clear.
I put my hands on the rough stones. I closed my eyes, and then it happened. The Wall spoke to me, or maybe it was Jerusalem herself ... the images and the message was clear.
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I felt thousands of years of yearning running through me. It shook my body. I felt it in my guts, in my heart, in my blood. It was the crying out of the cornered, the impoverished, the dispossessed, the people with no place else to go, the people who had lost all. I could feel the trampling force of empires and war as well as the callousness of cold politics and domination.
What I felt was not the yearning to own this place, this wall, this city. It was the universal thirst for wisdom, connection, security, the yearning to be loved.
I was unashamed of the tears that flowed down my young cheeks. I knew then that Jerusalem was giving me a gift. It was the gift of orientation. She told me that when I was confused, overwhelmed, or disoriented, the way to know the truth was to ask this question, "Does this action, does my action, remember and care for the broken and forgotten among us?"
I have very rarely spoken to anyone about this experience. But now I want to tell this tale.
Here I am, today, a little bald Jew watching the play of nations and empires in the 21st century. President Trump, a man whose character and aspirations threaten the very existence of my grandchildren, has recognized a unified Israeli Jerusalem for all time.
Am I overjoyed and thankful for what Trump has done? No. I'm sickened by this action.
There are so many other creative possibilities to work with and to finally solve this issue. The Palestinians deserve respect and recognition. They need to be an honored part of this equation. We need to remember them. We need to remember the weak, the frightened, the insecure, the homeless. How do I know this?
Jerusalem told me.
Izzi Tooinsky lives in Penn Valley.