A Giant Hug

A wonderfully heartening experience.

Rabbi Chaim (Ian) Pear

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On January 8, I participated in a wonderfully heartening experience.

A human chain was formed around the Old City walls as a sign of the Jewish people's commitment to keeping Jerusalem united. I rode my bike down to this event organized by
Thousands of people lined - nay, celebrated - the ancient walls of the Old City.
One Jerusalem and circled the area to get a sense of what it was all about.

And my description? In a word: inspiring.

There, despite the rain and dropping temperatures, thousands of people lined - nay, celebrated - the ancient walls of the Old City. As I rode my bike around the human chain, I was struck again and again by the enthusiasm and joy of the participants - most of whom were young (and people say youth today are apathetic - certainly not that day, and certainly not about Jerusalem). Spontaneous bursts of song and, yes, even dance, were commonplace. Good spirit and hearty laughter were ubiquitous.

"This is a protest?" I wondered to myself. Where is the shouting? Where is the name calling and angry rhetoric? Where was the enemy? To my surprise - and complete joyous satisfaction - none of these could be found.

Yes, serious people made serious arguments of why Jerusalem must never be divided. Some, of course, touted the fact that Jerusalem has always been a Jewish capital and center of our millenia yearnings, and that our Bible mentions its significance hundred and hundreds of times, while in contrast, Jerusalem has never been an Arab capital (to the contrary, it was relegated to a backwater distant outpost when under Arab control), and is not mentioned even once in the Koran (except when it may be referred to as the unspecified location of the distant mosque).

Others reminded the press in attendance that religious freedom for followers of all religions has only been protected over the past 2,000 years under the Jewish rule of the past 40 years, and that all previous regimes harassed followers and destroyed holy sites of the non-majority faith. Surely, the argument went, anyone concerned with tolerance must pray for Israel's continued sovereignty.

Yet, in spite of such arguments being made, I did not sense the human chain formed around the Old City was a political statement. No, it reminded me more of an enormous hug. To be sure, when one hugs another, he shields the person he is hugging from
Where is the shouting? Where is the name calling and angry rhetoric?
outsiders and those that may wish to hurt the person. The hugger's back and arms protects the huggee. The purpose of the hug, however, is to express love, whatever the other positive consequences might be. So too, here. There may have been a political statement made against those who would divide Jerusalem, but that was secondary. The main thrust was to express love - and the singing and dancing certainly did this.

This whole experience reminded me of a beautiful teaching of (I believe) the Maharal of Prague. He describes a midrash in which one receives a glimpse into the life of the righteous in the World to Come. Everyone is dancing in a circle, says the Maharal, joyously celebrating the existence of God, whose presence can be felt - but not seen - in the center of the circle. As they dance around and around the unseen presence of God, they point to the center, heaping praise and song upon that focal point.

Now here is where it gets interesting. Think for moment: When all these people point to the center - for that is where the unseen God, the source of their common joy resides - who are they really pointing at? If one draws a line from their pointed finger straight through the center - where God exists but cannot be seen - the line will cross the center and arrive at a person on the exact opposite side of the circle.

What a beautiful point! When a person points at God in the center of his or her life, he or she will ultimately be pointing - and heaping praise and song - upon a person exactly opposite him or her. For the first time, he will see the person opposite him, and as he sings and dances, his gaze will be nothing but joyous.

And here I am not just talking about geographic opposition, but rather a whole host of differences - spiritually, politically, culturally, ethnically, and on and on. A commitment to a common center - a common purpose - has the wonderful ability to unite all varieties of people and ideas committed to that center.

And this is what I saw in the enormous hug formed around Jerusalem's Old City. People
A common purpose has the wonderful ability to unite.
of different ages and backgrounds circled the walls. People who never met one another. They turned to Jerusalem and sang her praises and celebrated her beauty, spiritual and physical alike. In facing the city, though, they did not just face ancient stones; they also directed their love to the person on the other side of the circle, and in so doing united people who were as far apart physically as one could be. Most people had no idea who was on the other side of the circle, but by sharing a common commitment to Jerusalem, they felt as one with each other.

Which, I imagine, is one of the reasons why the One Above chose Jerusalem in the first place.

Now that's a demonstration I was proud to be a part of.