Map of Jerusalem from 1581
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Jerusalem, the Heart and Soul of the Jewish People

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A map of Jerusalem from 1581 shows the city at the center of the world. Although we now know that geographically this is incorrect, the city is still today the center of the Jewish world.

Jerusalem is ancient and modern. Archeological digs dating thousands of years stand near modern skyscrapers. People from all over the world converge to tour, to pray and to live.

The focus of Jewish Jerusalem is the the Western Wall, the remains from the Second Temple burned by the Romans in 70 CE. In the area near the Wall, you can hear simultaneously church bells ring, the call to prayer from the Mosque and the blowing of the shofar. Tourists from all over the world come to pray and insert petitions into the cracks of the wall.

There is something hypnotizing about that Wall. As you approach it, you feel that you are in the presence of a unique structure. When you touch it, a current runs through your body. I cannot explain why or how but it is real, and tears come to your eyes.

Fridays provide a unique experience in Jerusalem. Around noon, people rush getting ready for Shabbos which starts already around 4:00 p.m. in the winter. Stores close at 1:00-2:00 p.m., and the horrendous Jerusalem traffic thins to a trickle. At 20 minutes before sunset, a siren sounds throughout the city – time to light candles and get ready to go to services.

Friday evening at the Wall is an exceptional experience. Chassidim in their long black coats, knickers, black or white stockings and fur hats, hurry to get to the Wall, their ear locks flying in the air. Children of all ages in their best Shabbos attire are there with their parents. As you approach the Wall, the sexes are separated, as is customary according to Orthodox tradition. On the women’s side, you can see female members of the Israeli Defense Forces with their rifles on one shoulder and their prayer books in the other hand. Women of all ages are deep in prayer, and you can often hear a little old woman sob as she pours out her heart to the Almighty.

Shabbos is a very quiet day in the usually bustling city. Most restaurants are closed, traffic is almost at a standstill until sundown when Shabbos ends. Then the city comes back to life. Restaurants and cafes reopen, traffic picks up, the streets are crowded again.

To an observant Jew being in Jerusalem is a unique experience. You stroll along the paths where our biblical ancestors walked and reconnect with your past. Tour guides use passages from the Bible as they talk about historical sites. Everywhere you see young and old men of all races wearing yarmulkes with tzitzits hanging prominently from their waist. Jerusalem is especially a haven for those who observe the laws of kashrus as you can find kosher restaurants or cafés everywhere.

Members of the Israeli Defense Forces are present on streets, buses and shopping malls. They resemble American college students who should be thinking about a fun weekend. Nevertheless, Israelis rely on these youngsters for their safety.

Let us hope that little Israel will soon be able to live at peace with her neighbors and be able to contribute to the development of the whole region. Then Jerusalem will become the spiritual center of the whole world.

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Read more by Felicia Graber.

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