Becky and I came here in 2016 to begin a new chapter in our lives… to Stand With Israel and participate in the historically unprecedented resurrection of this land, language, and nation. The high holy days are like nothing I’ve ever seen and it gets to me every year. I’d like to try and describe some of my observations and feelings about this place and especially these people whom we have come to love deeply.
Living in Jerusalem is sort of like a marriage in that you can’t be here for very long before the romance of the place gives way to the reality of what it takes to adapt and live together. It’s not so much that you lose that lovin’ feeling… it goes much deeper than that. Like a marriage changes you, Jerusalem changes you. The prophets Ezekiel & Isaiah refer to Jerusalem as a furnace… like a refiners fire. No one who lives here can escape the heat of that process.
We’ve just finished Yom Kippur and next week begins the week-long party of Sukkot or Feast of Tabernacles. All over the world this week, Jews are buying the materials and dragging bundles of palm fronds down the streets and sidewalks or piling them onto the roofs of their cars so they can build a Sukkah. A Sukkah is a makeshift shelter that reminds them that once, long ago, God lived in a tabernacle among them, but it’s also a prophetic act that looks forward to the day when God will live among them once again.
Being a spectator in Jerusalem at this time of year always leaves me with the feeling that I should look away… because it’s so private and deeply intimate. On one hand, something vulnerable and tender is happening between God and his chosen people… on the other hand it reminds me that while their hearts yearn for his presence, they missed him when he came in the person of Yeshua.
Israel’s national celebration of the fall feasts with all of the pageantry and festivities is impossible to convey in writing. All five senses are popping not to mention your spiritual radar. The atmosphere of the city tangibly changes, and you can almost literally take it into yourself… like something heavenly was actually passing into you… becoming part of you.
If you are like me, you can remember what it felt like catching rays on a lazy summer afternoon as a teenager. Casey Kasem’s top 40 countdowns are playing on the radio while your skin soaks up the sun like a biscuit in gravy.
What a great feeling it was to dive into the water on a hot afternoon… passing through the heated surface into the cooler depths… pretending to be a frogman or escaping from the Creature From The Black Lagoon.
When it came to the water, I was usually the first one in and last one out. For me, it was never enough to swim in it or soak in it, I think I wanted more than it could give me. I wanted to become part of it… or for it to become part of me. I’ve felt like that about a lot of things over the years like Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and now Jerusalem.
CS Lewis wrote if we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.
That longing for something from another world is what it’s like living in Jerusalem, especially during the holiest days of the year. In his book, “Surprised by Joy” Lewis called these deep longings stabs of joy. I think they’re stabs because they’re piercing and painful, but they’re joy because even though they hurt, they’re the sweetest things that life has to offer.
This will be our third consecutive Fall Feasts and, after Sukkot, the mood and cadence that marks the Holy Days gradually gives way to the buzz of normal life with people returning to their normal routines. The shift in the atmosphere alters your mood and emotions, and it sort of reminds me of when we lived in Santa Cruz. Those beautiful sunny days at the beach would gradually disappear under a blanket when the late afternoon marine layer unfurled.
Those aromatic and richly flavorful stabs of joy that, for a few weeks at least, seemed to soak into this place and be absorbed by these people gives way to a familiar and persistent sense of agitation.
There’s a discernible restlessness here accompanied by a faint look of confusion on the faces of both Arabs and Jews, people who cannot see into, control or predict their own future.