Stone Wall-ed in Jerusalem
Stonewall-ed in Jerusalem
Born into a secular Jewish family in Rhode Island in 1950, I remained the only family member who had never visited the Holy Land, until conditions recently aligned themselves for a trip to Israel in June 2011. I’d traveled extensively before that, but felt such ambivalence about the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma, that I intentionally avoided Israel as a travel destination.
Because I practice no religion and, in fact, fear religion’s effect on the fate of the world, I have wondered how to fully identify as a Jew. At the same time, because of my progressive political perspective, the Palestinians’ plight, though far from blameless, has made it impossible for me to support Israel and its policies, separation walls and settlements.
Our two-week trip was absolutely fascinating. It was the three days spent inside the Old City of Jerusalem, however, that inspired this piece. I wondered if I could really capture my experience artistically, because so many layers of emotion were revealed when I touched the Wailing Wall for the first time or walked the back alleys, the tunnels and stairways, whose stone walls held centuries of conflict and religious fervor.
The grief, the memories and the deep scars held within the walls of the Old City are palpable. I’d heard Jerusalem repeatedly described as holy, spiritual and sacred. And yet, for me, the unresolved conflict was evident on every surface and in every face. “Irreconcilable” permeated the alleyways and I felt the need to question why so many were rushing to the mosques, churches and synagogues to pray. Are their prayers being answered? What are they praying for - new cell phones, bigger houses, revenge, religious dominance? Exactly what has monotheism’s three major religions accomplished in the way of finding real peace in this area? Why, when empathy could heal so much, do insularity, survival, blame and defensiveness abound?
Six months of self-reflection, research and the editing of endless original and archival photographs led to the concept of creating a wall embedded with the present day cohabitants of the Old City - orthodox and secular Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bedouin women, Arab Israelis, and unidentifiable children who could be from any of these tribes, all crossing paths with one another, while co-mingling with the ghosts that continue to haunt and separate them. Another 3 months were spent choosing and digitally collaging forty selected photographs taken in Jerusalem and five archival images depicting the Holocaust and the 1948 Palestinian exile, and then hand carving and painting the thirteen “stones” that make up the wall. On one stone, for example, there is a Hasidic woman standing by the candles at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre below a photo of two victims of the Holocaust. In another a young Arab carries planks through the marketplace in the Christian Quarter as a harried Hasidic man rushes by.
In the Jewish Quarter at the Wailing Wall, named because tears actually stream down the surface of the wall via aquifers at the far northern corner, visitors routinely leave a prayer in the crevices between stones. Usually these are intended to remember their departed or to request personal aspirations for the future. When and if this "wall" is installed, I’ll ask the viewer to offer their ideas (prayers, if you’d like) for traversing this seemingly hopeless situation, ways to help leaders and citizens contemplate and approach this impasse from outside the box. Desmond Tutu created his Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and similar trials have occurred in Rwanda.
If it takes a village to raise a child, what will it take to move this situation forward?