ICCI intern Paula Bu attended author James Caroll’s ICCI-co-sponsored lecture on the myth and reality of Jerusalem
To the very day I flew out of my New England bubble in America, my over-anxious mother repeatedly asked me, “Why Israel? Why Jerusalem?” Perhaps it is because I am an Asian-American or a non-Jew, but throughout the past month and a half I’ve been studying at Hebrew University, I have been asked the same questions on numerous occasions by other students of my study abroad program as well as Israelis. Regardless of how quickly the discussion ended with understanding nods as soon as I said, “Well, I’m majoring in the comparative study of religion…” I grew frustrated for giving answers that were unsatisfying to myself. It was not that I knew very much about the Israeli-Arab conflict or all the religious sites located in Jerusalem, but despite my lack of knowledge, it was the idea of Jerusalem that had compelled me. The idea of a sacred city, the idea of a city that stops running on Shabbat, the idea of a city that people fought over for thousands of years drew me away from a college life that was starting to feel unfulfilling and into a city that mattered.
So when James Carroll introduced his new book, Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited the Modern World at the Shalom Hartman Institute last month with its first two sentences, “This book is about the lethal feedback loop between the actual city of Jerusalem and the apocalyptic fantasy it inspires. It is a book, therefore, about the two Jerusalems: the earthly and the heavenly, the mundane and the imagined,” I was hooked. The very imagination that Jerusalem inspired was as crucial of a component of the city as its physical reality. Furthermore, I had already been excited to hear Carroll speak as he is the author of the bestseller Constantine’s Sword as well as many other novels and non-fiction works (some of which I had read for my classes), but I did not anticipate his personal touches and the passion with which he spoke.
He spoke of how one of the reasons why he embraced religion and the study of religion while growing up with a father in the Air Force was his belief that religion and radical violence were antithetical. Throughout the years, he started to realize that he was severely mistaken and it is in Jerusalem, Jerusalem that he explores how Jerusalem is the place where religion and violence have the most powerful relationship. He attempts to excavate the contemporary conflicts of Jerusalem from the rich histories of the Jews, Christians, and Muslims in this city. After going through what he attempted to do in this book, Carroll opened his lecture up to questions and comments. It was clear that Carroll had provoked much thought amongst the audience and for me at least, a take-home point was that outsiders of this place need to be very humble in their judgments about Jerusalem while insiders should not dismiss other perspectives because being part of the city can cause one to forget the bigger picture. Hopefully, as an outsider, but also as a student here for five months, I will continually be able to develop my own meaning and understanding of “why Jerusalem?”