Axis Mundi


The newspaper Ha-Aretz claims that yesterday’s storm was the worst Jerusalem has seen in ten years! No more guilt for staying in most of the day yesterday (except for our early morning outing to minyan).

Today was another rainy day (though less windy than yesterday with some nice rainless patches) and a museum seemed in order. However, the must-see Israel Museum does not open until 4 PM on Tuesdays. My next choice was the Museum on the Seam, a socio-political contemporary art museum which raises controversial social issues in its art. I had seen a very provocative exhibit about laborers in Israel and around the world when I first visited in 2006 and wanted very much to go back.  We walked well over an hour to get there only to be disappointed — the museum is closed until early February.

So we wandered. We happened upon the Jerusalem Print Workshop, a small gallery featuring a small selection of work from several different artists. We passed some lovely churches, as well as the city municipal building (a beautiful grand plaza just outside the Old City). We passed through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood with two big billboards, one which exhorted outside groups not to enter at all (probably because of noise or the fear of women conversing with men), and the second which concerned immodest dress of women, which essentially read, “Please don’t pass our neighborhood in immodest dress. Modest clothes include a closed blouse with long sleeves and a long skirt — but not tight. Please don’t bring us sorrow by disturbing the holiness of our neighborhood and our lifestyle as Jews who are faithful to God and His Torah.”

I was wearing pants and wasn’t in a sorrow-bringing kind of mood, so we didn’t pass through.

From there it was my aim to get us to Yad L’Kashish/Lifeline for the Old, a workshop of beautiful craft items handmade by the elderly who are empowered by the art they create and supported financially by it, as well. This shop has been a must on every trip I’ve ever taken to Israel and is where I bought many gifts today since the profits go to such a good cause. When we left there we thought to go to Mahane Yehuda again to replenish our fruit and vegetable supply (“real” Israelis buy their produce on a daily basis), but the rain started up heavily so we headed home, stopping at Heichal Shlomo to peek at the Wolfson Judaica Gallery where we saw an amazing exhibit of multi-media pieces by an Israeli artist, Yossi Arish.

By the way, I am doing all the navigating, since I know the city far better than Chaim does. So much has changed since he was here last time, he is still a bit disoriented. Those of you who know Chaim know that he is a mega-walker who typically clocks between 5 and 13 miles a day. So our 4-5 hour walks here are nothing for him. I am mostly a swimmer who doesn’t normally walk to the extent that Chaim does, but am also really enjoying the long walks. We have avoided public transportation thus far. My aim is to return to the U.S. at least ten pounds lighter, and I think I am walking the righteous path in that regard…

The photo I posted today is a copy of the Clover Map, originally drawn by Heinrich Bunting in 1585 and re-created as a large bright-colored ceramic installation in Safra Square (right next to the municipal building). The map places Jerusalem in the center of a large-three leaf clover comprised of three continents of the world (Europe, Asia, Africa — apologies to North and South America, Australia and Antarctica!) As a New Yorker, I love the famous New Yorker cartoon which places New York as the center point of the world. As a Jew, however, my soul resonates with the belief that Jerusalem is that place, the axis mundi, where heaven and earth meet. Traditional Jews believe that the location where the Temple stood was the specific location of the axis mundi within the already-holy city of Jerusalem. Hence the emphasis on the Wailing Wall, the only existing remnant of the  ancient Temple.

There is a wonderful folk story about two anonymous brothers who farmed the land where the Temple later stood. One was single; the other married with a family. They divided the produce of the land equally. One night, however, the single brother woke up in a panic. “My brother has a family to support and should have more than half the bounty.” As a result, he got up, went to the piles of grain and added from his own pile to that of his brother.

On that same night, the married brother woke up worrying about his single brother. “After all,” he told himself, “I have the joy of a loving wife and family, what need have I of such material abundance?” So he got up and placed some grain from his pile onto that of his brother.

This exchange continued night after night until the brothers met in the middle of the field and suddenly realized why their own piles never seemed diminished. They hugged and cried, and God, watching from above, said, “This is very good,” and decided that that should be the very spot for the holy Temple to be built.

Jerusalem, Yerushalyim in Hebrew, literally means “the city of peace.” Perhaps the potential of being the axis mundi exists here, but I tend to think it won’t be realized again until Jerusalem (as a metaphor for the whole of Israel, as a people — which includes Jews everywhere — and as a place) lives up to its name as a place/people of peace and love and generosity as exemplified by that folk story … until the two brothers of the same father again put the welfare of the other before their own.

27th Tevet/January 8, 2013


3 thoughts on “Axis Mundi

  1. P. Such pleasure following your explorations. Wonderful folk story abut the axis mundi! Thank you for your commitment to sharing. H

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