One of the posters on Jewschool posted a link to this superb Forward guest editorial by David Mamet describing some of his feelings and experiences on his visit to Jerusalem in late 2002. This was a time when suicide bombings were still raging and Jerusalem in particular was a major target. It’s a short piece about a sense of longing and nostalgia from the perspective of missed opportunities.

My accommodations in the Mount Zion Hotel are superb — two large picture windows overlook the Old City. To its left, modern Jerusalem, to the right, the Mount of Olives, East Jerusalem and the descent to the Dead Sea. Looking east, before actual dawn, and just before sunset, the light is extraordinary. The Old City is the height of land — it rises from the sea to the Temple Mount and falls away to the Dead Sea and the desert.

A tour guide, a committed amateur archaeologist, gives me a tour of the south and east walls.

“Look up,” he says, “what do you see?”

“The land rises and then falls away,” I say.

He nods. “The clouds come in from the sea and deposit the rain at the highest point: the Old City. To its west, the land is tillable. To its east is desert. This is the division,” he says. “This is the spot where…”

“Two cultures,” I suggest.

“Not two cultures,” he says, “but two mentalities, two spiritualities meet: the people in the land toward the sea, in biblical Canaan, were concerned with commerce, with trade, with agriculture. The people to the east, the people in the desert, were concerned with spirit, with visions. The two have always met in Jerusalem.”

We walk toward the cemetery at the Mount of Olives. Below he shows me the City of David, that is, Jerusalem, as it existed at the turn of the common era. In those days, he says, it had more than 100,000 inhabitants. The July heat is killing me. It is not hard to imagine the relief of the desert traveler, coming to the high, watered ground. The cleansing, insistent influence of the desert to the Westerner does not need to be imagined; one feels it.

ire article, it’s worth it.

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  • wow, that was a nice read. Thanks.

    I was particularly struck by these quotes:

    Israel at war looks very much like Israel at peace


    To me, a Diaspora Jew, the question is constant, insistent and poignant while in Israel. At this meal it is more than poignant, it is painful. How, I wonder, can I not be here; and how is it possible that I did not come here (as did Michael Oren) in my youth, and “grow up with the country,” instead of wasting my time in show business? I am full of grief, as at a middle-aged meeting with the girl I did not marry

  • He stayed at one of my favorite hotels, not that it matters. But I love the hotel, good location and reasonable rates.