My Mother’s Day was spent visiting the mother of all lands, Eretz Israel.
After a short drive to the California Science Center in downtown, my family and I were graced with a long line for the sold out screening of Jerusalem 3D. I walked in assuming the line was for suckers who didn’t get their tickets ahead of time, and smirked my way to the front. As I walked past the half-mile long line, I noticed families, couples, field-trip groups, all sporting different nationalities and languages — and pieces of paper in their hands, awfully similar to the ticket confirmation in my own hands.
The doors opened and as we inched our way inside, I pondered what was to come. I’m typically repulsed at the conceptualization of religion or spiritual matters in entertainment, particularly films — the bible will always be a better book than movie. I suspect this is because attempts to depict contextualized religious life are often done by those who don’t live it. Even if so, the degree of accuracy is irrelevant considering films are products of entertainment. So imagining Jerusalem, the holiest stepping ground in the world, seen through a stupid pair of 3D glasses was a bit disheartening.
We sat ourselves amongst hundreds of people, all eager for the experience. The lights turned off, and the movie began with surreal aerial shots of Israel — north to south, east to west. Arguably, she has it all: the Dead Sea is the closest point to the core of the earth, and Jerusalem the closest point to G-d. Some have called Jerusalem ‘the cradle of civilization,’ situated right in the center of Europe, Asia and Africa. It has been conquered over and over again, every new layer built upon an older one, forming histories coexisting alongside one another.
The film is narrated by three young women: Jewish, Muslim and Christian. They walk us through their homes, introduce us to their families, and tell us of their pasts. All three have histories rich with transformation and migrations, all of which have reached their pinnacle in Jerusalem. How is it that each one of the three major faiths chose Jerusalem as its respective place of high worship? In response, the film walks us through each of the four quarters of the Old City: Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Armenian.
Despite the divisions, each group of people exist alongside one another, colorfully and vibrantly. As orthodox Jews make their daily path to their prayer or market place, they walk past the Muslims and Christians. The camera zooms out, and from afar, head dressings look the same, all the bearded men walk side-by-side, languages blend, and culture erupts at the seams. For those mere seconds, they are all one. The film ends with the three women crossing paths in the Old City, inches from stumbling but unable to see each other.
As we walked out, I returned those stupid 3D glasses, unmasking the tears in my eyes. Having not been to Israel in many years, I appreciated being brought back home. Now the scenes of the film play in my head over and over again. Along everything else that keeps me up at night, I am forced to examine how much of that “blindness to the Other” is prevalent in my own perspective.
Though the people of Jerusalem walk by one another every day, their religious identities transcend the physical and instill a stubborn distance between them. Nowhere else in the world is the difference so proximate. In many ways, Jerusalem models the social dysfunction of diversity: the close embrace of our identities makes us unable to see the big picture — human universality.
My meditation on difference reached a milestone in a conversation with Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller about the ‘victim culture’ on campus. He criticized that when we identify ourselves through our struggles alone, we consequently define ourselves in the words of our haters. He asked, “What does it mean to be Jewish?” and the consensus around the room was, “We are special.” He challenged us, Hillel leaders, to take that identity a step forward.
If we are able to recognize that our differences make us special, we accept a human capacity for uniqueness. As Jews, we recognize that we are all created equal, therefore, everybody has the capacity for being unique. There is no need to assert our differences, because they assert themselves. I challenge myself — and you, reader — to rethink why we let those differences take center stage while the overwhelming amount of similarities are left ignored in the background.
We are entitled to the differences that define us, but we should not let those differences define our relationships with others. If we are truly confident in who we are, befriending the other should excite and motivate us. To put together a whole world, we first need to be comfortable being pieced alongside other pieces.