The Ecphorizer

Morning in Jerusalem
Barry Leff

Issue 11 (October 2007)

Living and learning before morning coffee

August 25, 2007
The very first law listed in the Shulchan Aruch is to “arise like a lion in the morning, eager to serve one’s Creator.”

Jews aren’t the only ones eager to serve God early in the morning in Jerusalem. 

...the King David Hotel, truly a Jerusalem landmark; the most classic elegant hotel lobby in Israel (not the most modern or slickthe most classic, like in a 1940s movie), a place with some excellent cuisine.

The most eager appear to be the Muslims; sometime very early in the morning (I’m not sure how early, but early…), while I’m still laying in bed, I can hear the muezzin call out the adhan, the Muslim call to pray, in the pre-sunrise dawn.  We can hear the call, electronically amplified, coming from several mosques in the nearby Arab villages.  Next up are the Christians; about 0630 (I’m usually still in bed) I can hear the sound of the church bells which I believe are coming from the nearby Convent of the Poor Clares, although there are a few other churches that could be the source.   Ten minutes later it's time for the shofar of the Jews.

This is now the month of Elul, a month of preparation for the High Holy days coming in Tishrei.  As part of our preparation for the awesome days, we engage in cheshbon  hanefesh, “an accounting of the soul,” and consider how to improve ourselves.  During the month of Elul we blow the shofar, the ram’s horn, every morning at the conclusion of our morning prayers.  So the other day, after the muezzin in the dark, and the church bells of 6:30, I heard my neighbor blowing his shofar at 6:40.  It was definitely one of those “you’re not in Toledo anymore” moments.

I got up and recited my prayers, and with only a little bit of self-consciousness, added my shofar blowing to the ecumenical sound effects of morning in Jerusalem. I’m not quite sure what the Arab workers on the apartment above mine make of me out on the terrace wrapped in a prayer shawl, adorned with tefillin, as I stand and pray facing the Temple Mount, which I can see from my balcony – the place where the Muslim Dome of the Rock now stands, and I blow my shofar, traditionally a sound of alarm and a battle cry. Of course I’m not blowing the shofar as a call to arms – I’m blowing it as a reminder to wake up spiritually – but I wonder, do they know that?

After my prayers I go out for a run. The street I live on, Caspi, is one of the more famous streets in Jerusalem. It’s a very unusual street, with some of the best views in the city, some of the most expensive homes, a few dilapidated homes, and a very eclectic mix of people, including my neighbor, a former chief rabbi of Ireland, and an assortment of people ranging from charedi (ultra-Orthodox) to secular, including some Catholics and even Muslims. I run down Caspi to the Haas Promenade and appreciate the view of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as I climb the hill toward the UN Middle East Headquarters, which is located on “The Hill of Evil Counsel.” The location was formerly the headquarters for the British High Commissioner during the period of the British Mandate. I won’t even go into the symbolism of the UN’s Middle East HQ being located on the Hill of Evil Counsel. Anyway, I run past the UN to the top of the hill, and make a left turn and run on a path that goes around the back side of the UN complex, with stunning views of Jerusalem, and on clear mornings, the hills in Jordan. As I run down the path, there is a stand of olive trees, with an occasional pine tree mixed in between me and the barbed wire surrounding the UN. Jerusalem – and my morning run – is full of these sort of juxtapositions of signs of peace and signs of struggle; olive trees and the UN, but surrounded by barbed wire. As I come back to the Promenade, I find that the view of the “security barrier,” a.k.a. the “wall” is a stark reminder of the problems in this troubled land. I look across the “Peace Forest” to the town of Abu Tor, one of the few “mixed” areas in Jerusalem, where both Jews and Arabs live. Although it’s “mixed” the way the high school I went to in New York was “integrated.” The Jews stay at the upper part of the neighborhood, the Arabs at the lower. Not really so much mixing.

My gaze then takes in the King David Hotel, truly a Jerusalem landmark; the most classic “elegant hotel” lobby in Israel (not the most modern or slick—the most classic, like in a 1940’s movie), a place with some excellent cuisine. I can’t look at the King David without being reminded of how my friend Emerich Salzberger (z”l) told me how he was in Jerusalem on that day in 1946 when Jewish terrorists bombed the hotel (it was serving as HQ for the British military), killing over 90 people.

Unlike most other terrorists, Jewish terrorists have something of a conscience (well, most Jewish terrorists, not including ones like Baruch Goldstein or Yigal Amir) – they called the hotel and warned them that a bomb had been planted before they set it off. I don’t think they really wanted to kill a lot of people – they just wanted the British to get the idea that they should leave. Unfortunately, the warning was ignored and all those people died.

My gaze then takes in the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives with its large Jewish cemetery. It’s supposedly the best place to be buried, because when the Messiah comes and builds the third Temple you have ringside seats. Looks a little crowded and exposed to me, however.

I reflect on the fact that the spot where I am running was the front line a little over 40 years ago – there were certainly no tourists out running there back when the border with Jordan was only a hundred yards or so away. It was more of a no man’s land. I feel safe running there today, although I do have it in the back of my mind that about five years ago a group of Arab terrorists murdered a 25 year old Jewish girl who was walking with her boyfriend in the “Peace Forest” just below.

As I continue on my run, I pass the Convent of the Poor Clares – which is shut up as tight as the proverbial nun, doors are never open, they don’t take in tourists, etc., round the corner and head for home.

A lot of beautiful scenery, and a lot of history to consider, all before my morning coffee!

Once a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, long-time contributor Barry Leff is now an ordained Rabbi.  Barry reaches out by teaching and writing, using such modern tools as the Internet and his blog. This article was originally published on Barry's blog.

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Barry Leff

Barry Leff was active in San Francisco Regional Mensa in the 1980s and early 1990s. After 20 years of slaving away in high-tech he saw the light, got God, and went back to school to become a rabbi. Leff is now a member of Maumee Valley Mensa in the Toledo, Ohio area, where he serves as a pulpit rabbi. Leff and family are busily preparing to move to Israel in the summer of 2007. A certified flight instructor, Leff tells his flight students hell get them closer to God (or at least hell get them praying) one way or the other.