By INNA ROGATCHI—
“ The energy of these stones has provided the nourishment for many generations of the Jewish people, for all those who are keeping Jerusalem in their hearts as the nucleus of their universe.
There is no other sensation in the world as the one when one’s hand is touching those warm, wise stones; the stones which are speaking to you; one to one”. –
from Inna Rogatchi’s highlights to her The Route fine art photography collection.
The first time I visited Jerusalem twenty far years 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 of being on the Israeli soil.
Staying at the terrace of the Yerushalaim Teatron , 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 have lost the sense of time at the moment being completely taken by the strong and clear sensation: the place where we were lucky to stay was absolutely extra-ordinary, it was as if it had been hold above the earth and held upward by a superior power. It had a very distinct magnetism, gentle, but extremely firm. And most importantly, time had no power over it.
I am quite sure that some if not many of our agnostic friends did and do feel the same in and about Jerusalem. The only difference in our perceptions is that they just cannot explain the matre d’reasonne for their sensation.
The Feeling of Jerusalem is the sort of a sensation which transforms into conviction.
I am not tired to repeat myself on the matter: 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 unparalleled, re-assuring power and magnetism.
Talmud provides quite straightforward explanation to 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
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.
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 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 stones does have their own soul, too. Of course, stones do 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. I do not know the more illustrative projection of the 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 in stones I know.
When the Silver Thread becomes the Golden Bowl
And to make the history alive, the Bar-Mitzvah ceremonies for Jewish boys are organised 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 translated from Ecclesiast more often – “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), ( Ecclesiast 12:6).
From the Temple Tunnel, one gets out into the bustling Via Dolorosa and makes it through the Muslim Quarter, and at that very moment, one just cannot help itself but to feel how the Jerusalem Stones, with all the history and spirit preserved there, has become and is staying the foundation of the civilisation, and its three monotheistic religions.
And perhaps, it would be only fair to note here that while there is also Mecca for Islam believers, and Vatican for the Catholics, and Afon monastery for Greek Orthodox, and also Sergiev Posad for the Orthodox believers, there is only one Jerusalem.
Making my way through the Muslim Quarter, I remembered that it has been only one documented episode in the entire Jewish-Arab history on Arabs and Jews unification on a certain issue. And what was the issue? Back in early 20th century, between 1907 and 1914, there were scandalous and farcial at the same time, 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, and they went for unauthorised excavations hiding what they were doing in the most hilarious way. They went too far in their adventures in the matter of intruding the history and damaging it. When the word went out on the Brits are after the Arch of Covenant, Jews and Arabs of Jerusalem has got 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, in my opinion.
At the junction where Muslim Quarter comes to Temple Plaza, there is another remarkable place, the Ohel Yitzhak Synagogue, which has been ruined to its foundation – the same as Hurva was – in 1948, but which 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 ZAHAL soldiers with their officers there being taken for the excursion, with some of them were able to pray at the quiet and inviting place.
Importantly, there is a special programme for the Zahal soldiers carried on by the Temple Heritage Foundation, with 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 walking, – says the one of them, young, bright and devoted.- On the 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 am staying with them here, at the Wall. It is so important for them to sense it, to experience it alive. I do not mind to return to home a bit later, even on the Shabbat eves. 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.
The similar to the Oleh Yitzhak Synagogue re-birth story has happened before with well known Hurva Synagogue which is a crown of the Hurva Square today. From 2010 onward when it has been restored finally, it is almost impossible to imagine that this central place of the Old City had been looking different ever, although the Hurva story is particularly painful and almost desperate during all years of existence its once largest Ashkenasi 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 as if jumped to my husband’s and mine hearts and stayed there. There are symbols like that in ones’ life that are staying with people for years on. Despite all its sorrow, that very arch meant our bridge to Jerusalem, for both of us; to the extent that Michael has painted his very famous My Stones. Jerusalem painting which now belongs 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.
Seventeen years after the completion of the Michael’s work, Hurva Synagogue has been restored finally; and that time, I took my 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 presence of the leadership of the European Parliament, the heads of states, and hundreds of people – all of them singing the Gold of Jerusalem, and many knowing the words.
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 as Hurva Return, and we have donated it the last year to the outstanding Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetzki who has made the restoration of Hurva possible, in the matter of organising and inspirational efforts. 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 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 the appearing 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 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 love to get into the bustling Mammila 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 are talking on ‘being 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 recent initiative of Yoni Chetboun, the Knesset MP, supported by the group of MKs from different parties , on making the Day of Jerusalem the 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 has prevailed due to the human courage and commitment. My husband would 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! Jerusalem is ours, back and again!” ‘We’ – were crying of joy Jews exiled in nobody’s lands. We are repeating 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 enthusiastic stalinistas of Meretz, I would highly recommend them to buy a ticket to the North Korea or Cuba, to enjoy the life there.
Embracing ‘the whole Jerusalem’
My heart is sinking every time when I‘m passing the house where Israel patriots were hiding while fighting in underground in 1948. My heart is jumping out 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 started at the Wall. That push of that wind signals us that the people of the nation are heard of.
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, thousand 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.
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 erected 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.
Because both, in the beginning and in the end of the day, the Jerusalem is the only place in this world where a person can talk with the Creator directly.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The essay has been basic for the Dr Rogatchi’s presentation Jerusalem. My Stones at The Rogatchi Foundation and the Estonian Jewish Centre/Estonian Religious Jewish Community Special Event commemorating the Day of Jerusalem and the 7th anniversary of the new Tallinn Synagogue in Tallinn, Estonia, on May 28th, 2014