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Op-Ed: Jerusalem, My Stones

For Jerusalem's Day of Liberation, a tribute to the Holy City and its people.
Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 6:43 AM


It is my real pleasure to send this new film to you, my friends at Arutz Sheva and especially dedicate it to all Jerusalemites, those who are physically in the Holy City and those who hold it in their hearts, as our special greeting on the forthcoming Day of Jerusalem.

The inaugural public presentation of this short film will take place on May 28, 2014, at the Special Event in Tallinn, Estonia, organised by the Estonian Jewish Centre/Estonian Jewish Religious Community and The Rogatchi Foundation in commemoration of the Day of Jerusalem and the 7th anniversary of the Tallinn Synagogue.

The musical video-essay is from the collection of my original works in fine art photography and art collages. The famous work My Stones. Jerusalem by the my husband, world-renowned artist Michael Rogatch, belongs to the Art Collection of the Municipality of Jerusalem. 

Music: J-S. Bach. Prelude BWV 555 in Silotti transcription. Performed by Felipe Sarro. (Fully licensed use of music - Creaive Commons Archive.) 

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 felt when one’s hand is touching those warm, wise stones; the stones which are speaking to you; one to one.

The first time we visited Jerusalem twenty four years ago, we all were trembling in excitement and disbelief at being on Israeli soil.

I lost the sense of time at that moment being completely taken by a strong and clear sensation: it was as if the city 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.

There are many Tel-Aviv's 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 unparalleled, re-assuring power and magnetism.

The Talmud provides a 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 Holies.

The Wonders of the Tunnels

This year, exploring the Temple Tunnel,we were extremely privileged to be at the place which is just ninety metres from the Holly of Hollies. The place which is the holiest one for the Jewish nation is quite simple but appropriately adorned, it is a place for praying, with many praying books around, a few chairs, and a couple of rows of seats. Everything there is unpretentiously gracious and just incredibly calm.

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 realises, happily, that the Wall – and our strength emanated by it -  is substantially longer than the visible part, those precious 87,5 metres of the Wall 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 saying that stoneshave 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 never deeper than 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 as Hall of Epochs by the Temple Heritage Foundation, there are physical stones, architectural details, and artefacts from five epochs: the floor and 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.

When the Silver Thread becomes the Golden Bowl

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 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, I remembered that there 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 British aristocrats led by Monty Parker, to excavate in the heart of Jerusalem to recover nothing less than the Ark of the Covenant. They efficiently bribed the Turkish officials who were administrating Jerusalem, 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 Ark, Jews and Arabs of Jerusalem united in fierce riots against the illegal doings of Monty Parker’s ‘brigade’ and made him flee for his life.    

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 was  - in 1948, but which is under well advanced restoration today. The synagogue which formerly was the Synagogue of Hungarian Jewry and was built in 1870s and now it is back to life, 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 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 Zahal soldiers, and are hearing their stories: ““I am living a bit too far from the Wall, 45 minutes walk – says the one of them, young, bright and devoted Yishai Solomon.- 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, 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 Zahal 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 it was restored, 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 as it was the largest Ashkenazi synagogue in Jerusalem. 

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

Seventeen years after the completion of Michael’s work, Hurva Synagogue was restored.

And then we united our artistic efforts and our love for Jerusalem and its spiritual treasures, 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 the last year 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 in between the generations of the Jewish people in the very heart of 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 the appearing generations of Jewish people, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

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

With Jerusalem in the desert of Gulag

There is no doubt in my mind that the recent 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 right. 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 when Jews 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! Jerusalem is ours, back again!” ‘We’ – were crying with joy Jews exiled in nobody’s lands. We repeat their joy every year 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 the stalinistas of Meretz, I would highly recommend they buy a ticket to North Korea or Cuba, to enjoy life there.

Embracing ‘the whole Jerusalem

My heart aches every time I pass the house where Israel patriots were hiding while fighting in the 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 Ell 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 of Bella Chagall who was willing ‘to embrace the whole Jerusalem’ when she was five years old child sitting with her family in Vitebsk, thousands of miles from it, - but knowing by her heart, the heart of a Jewish child, what Jerusalem is about.

Twenty five 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 a quarter of century 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, no matter what occurs. 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.

Because 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.

More on Inna & Michael Rogatchi, their art and philanthropy at the Rogatchi Foundation site 

Read Arutz Sheva's recent interview with the prolific author and photographer, here.