In Israel musing on discord and harmony

Destinations editor Eric Moya is accompanying travel
advisors throughout Israel on a Central Holidays familiarization trip. 

Sometimes before a trip, I’ll put together a playlist. In
Spain, for instance, my soundtrack featured the virtuosic duende
of Paco de Lucia; in Panama, it was the sophisticated rhythms and harmonies of
jazz pianist Danilo Perez.

In Israel, others have handled the playlist duties. On the
Sea of Galilee, Christian rock blared over PA speakers during our sailing, like
the most wholesome of party boats. As we drove into Jerusalem, our guide queued
up two songs to play onboard our motorcoach: “The Holy City” (“Jerusalem,
Jerusalem! Lift up your gates and sing”) and “Jerusalem of Gold,” an unofficial
national anthem of sorts (“Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, forever young, forever old”). In both instances, it was an effective
attempt at mood-setting, judging from the hosannas from several in my group.

But even before we’d pulled into Jerusalem, I’d had another
selection on repeat in my mental jukebox: alt-country artist Steve Earle’s 2002
album named after the city. 

Earle’s “Jerusalem” album is less about the Holy City per se
than the aforementioned tunes; instead, it is intentionally and instantly
evocative of the post-9/11 world in which it was released. Some might remember
the controversy around the song “John Walker’s Blues,” with lyrics
Earle wrote from the point of view of so-called “American Taliban” John Walker
Lindh.

In his music and otherwise, Earle is outspoken about a
number of topics, including politics — “I’m a socialist in a country that
doesn’t allow a socialist party,” he once said —
and the album is filled with wry, angry observations about everything from
health care (“There’s doctors down on Wall Street sharpenin’ their scalpels and
tryin’ to cut a deal,” from “Amerika v. 6.0”) to the complexities of the drug
war (“All I wanted was a little money, all I needed was a week or two,” from “What’s
a Simple Man to Do?”). 

Given the tensions between the U.S. and Iran as I write this,
several of my friends and family members worried about the timing of this trip,
the specter of retaliation against the region’s staunch U.S. ally looming. A
few of the agents invited on this Central Holidays fam canceled. It all brought
to mind the weary inevitability of the opening lines from “Jerusalem’s” title
track, which closes the album: 

I woke up this morning, and none of the news was good
Death machines were rumblin’ ‘cross the ground where Jesus
stood
And the man on my TV told me that it had always been that
way
And there was nothing anyone could do or say.

The majority of us decided to go ahead with the fam, with
several commenting that they simply weren’t going to let fear and uncertainty
dictate their plans. I can’t say the subject of Iran has come up very often,
but our Israeli guide has been frank in discussions about tensions in the
region, where even Jerusalem — where followers of Christianity, Islam and
Judaism coexist in areas within the Old City and beyond — isn’t spared from
the strife.

Regardless, there was something moving about walking
throughout the Old City and seeing evidence of, if maybe not camaraderie, at
least mutual respect. There were the faithful gathered along the Western Wall
to pray; there was the man handing out paperback copies of the Quran, free of
charge and in multiple languages, outside a mosque — a form of outreach, he
said.

In his song “Jerusalem,” Earle makes mention of his own
spirituality:

Somewhere along the way I strayed and I never looked back
again
But I still find some comfort now and then. 

At least one of the guests
on my trip made a similar comment about their religious affiliation, and I
suspect that whatever one’s reasons are for visiting Israel, and whatever their
relationship with spirituality, the experience will prove to be transformative
in some way. 

On the subject of transformation: The funny thing about
Earle’s song is that lyrically it soon takes a turn from its opening lines and,
unlike the rest of the “Jerusalem” album, it is incredibly hopeful. It also
makes use of biblical allusions:

I believe that one fine day all the children of
Abraham
Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem.

The issues Earle spoke to on the “Jerusalem” album are still
very much in the collective consciousness 18 years later. Perhaps the cynical
among us would opine, like Earle’s unnamed TV commentator, that it’s always
been that way. Still, perhaps others — those who’ve stayed on a spiritual path
as well as those who’ve strayed — would find in Jerusalem an embodiment of the
potential for humankind, no matter their beliefs, to live in harmony.

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