Celebrating Israel

You Only See When You Hear

By Jenna Rose Alpern

Excerpt from Israel: An Echo of Eternity, A.J. Heschel

“July, 1967…I have discovered a new land. Israel is not the same as before. There is great astonishment in the souls. It is as if the prophets had risen from their graves. Their words ring in a new way. Jerusalem is everywhere, she hovers over the whole country. There is a new radiance, a new awe.

The great quality of a miracle is not in its being an unexpected, unbelieved event in which the presence of the holy bursts forth, but in its happening to human beings who are profoundly astonished at such an outburst. My astonishment is mixed with anxiety. Am I worthy? Am I able to appreciate the marvel?

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I did not enter on my own the city of Jerusalem. Streams of endless craving, clinging, dreaming, flowing day and night, mights, years, decades, centuries, millennia, streams of tears, pledging, waiting = from all over the world, from all corners of the earth – carried us of this generation to The Wall. My ancestors could only dream of you – to my people in Auschwitz you were more remote than the moon, and I can touch your stones! Am I worthy? How shall I ever repay for these moments?

The martyrs of all ages are sitting at the gates of heaven, having refused to enter the world to come lest they forget Israel’s pledge given in and for this world:

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If I forget you, O Jerusalem
let my right hand wither.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joys.
Psalm 137

They would rather be without heaven than forget the glory of Jerusalem. From time to time their souls would leave the gates of heaven to go on a pilgrimage to the souls of the Jewish people, reminding them that God himself is in exile, that He will not enter heavenly Jerusalem until his people Israel will enter Jerusalem here.

Jerusalem! I always try to see the inner force that emanates from you, enveloping and transcending all the weariness and travail. I try to use my eyes, and there is a cloud. Is Jerusalem higher than the road I walk on? Does she hover in the air above me? No, in Jerusalem past is present, and heaven is almost here. For an instant I am near to Hillel, who is close by. All of our history is within reach.

Jerusalem, you only see her when you hear.

She has been an ear when no one else heard, and ear open to prophets denunciations, to prophets consolations, to the lamentations of ages, to the hopes of countless sages and saints; and ear to prayer flowing from distant places. And she is more than an ear.

Jerusalem is a witness. An echo of eternity. Stand still and listen. We know Isaiah’s voice from hearsay, yet these stones heard him when he said… (2 : 2-4)

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It shall come to pass in the latter days…
For out of Zion shall go forth Torah,
and the word of The Lord from Jerusalem…
And he shall judge between nations,
and shall decide for many peoples…
Nation shall not lift of sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

Jerusalem was stopped in the middle of her speech. She is a voice interrupted. Let Jerusalem speak again to our people, to all people…

What is the secret of Jerusalem? Her past is a prelude.
Her power is in reviving. Here silence is prediction, the walls are in suspense…
This is a city never indifferent to the sky. The evenings often feel like Kol Nidre nights. Unheard music, transfiguring thoughts. Prayers are vibrant. The Sabbath finds it hard to go away…

Jerusalem has the look of a place that is looked at… “The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year” (Deuteronomy 11:12). Psalms inhabit the hills, the air is hallelujah. Hidden harps. Dormant songs. “

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