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Asking the clergy: What can be gained by visiting Jerusalem?

Marc A. Gruber

Marc A. Gruber Credit: Renee Gruber

Many Long Islanders dream of traveling to Jerusalem, a city with significance in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. This week’s commenters all made the life-changing trip: a Jew, a Coptic Christian and a Muslim. They discuss how their visit enriched their lives and spiritual practices.

Rabbi Marc A. Gruber

Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth, Rockville Centre

When we travel to Jerusalem, we gain an added measure of soul. When we travel to Jerusalem it is pilgrimage, an ascending — in Hebrew, aliyah. This trip fulfills an ancient religious obligation to visit Eretz Yisra’el — the Land of Israel — and Jerusalem. Jews have made pilgrimages to Jerusalem in this way since biblical days. For thousands of years at the end of our Passover seder, Jews have recited the words, “next year in Jerusalem.” We are not visiting sights as tourists do; we are journeying to sites that will draw holiness from our collective Jewish consciousness and memory. This trip is not just a physical and geographic journey; we are also creating sacred time in fulfillment of our ancient plea and sacred prayer. In Jerusalem the air is vibrant, the city is alive. The views inspire with panoramas from the heights of hills or buildings, and majestic skies framed by Jerusalem stone from the valleys. The stone drips history; it has witnessed more than three millennia of activity. In Jerusalem we are challenged by the old and the new, conflict and calm. Dichotomies exist side by side. At times the tension vibrates like a tightly wound rubber band: ultraorthodox next to secular, Israelis and Palestinians, East and West, the antique and the modern, a sense of conflict and a feeling of deep peace. We are revived; we feel like we are standing in the center of the world. We walk near and far; our experience includes bustling markets with exotic sights and smells. We recognize the familiar in the different. As everyone seems to strive for something more, the rhythm of shabbat is dominant.

Father Moussa Shafik

St. Abraam Coptic Orthodox Church, Woodbury

I visited the Holy Land twice — in 2000, and again last year. The first visit was to attend a conference. The second time, my family and I wanted to experience the blessings of seeing those holy places. We visited Bethlehem, where Christ was born, and Nazareth, where he lived. We visited Jerusalem, where Christ was crucified; and Gethsemane, the garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus prayed and the disciples slept on the night before the crucifixion; and the upper room, which was the site of the Last Supper, and where the disciples were gathered on Pentecost to see the Holy Spirit. And I stayed in Kiriath-Jearim and visited the house of Abinadab, the very place where the Ark of the Covenant stayed for 20 years in the Old Testament. What did I gain from the experience? For one, it is wonderful to pray for peace in such a spiritual place. During our travels in Jerusalem, I was able to connect the places I saw with the spiritual part of history in the Bible. There is a big difference between reading the Bible and being in the place where an act was done. I also attended a Sukkot feast. After I returned home, I talked to our congregation about how much we can learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters, and their commitment to obeying the commandments of God.

Dr. Asad Baig

Member, The Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury

As a Muslim-American born and raised in New York, going to Jerusalem was a pretty unique experience. I walked the narrow streets that turned into even tighter alleys where kids played soccer. I passed shopkeepers who smiled gently and restaurant owners who tried to entice me to come in for some shawarma. As I took my final few steps, I was met with soldiers. They stepped aside and I entered the holy city of Jerusalem. I was at Al-Aqsa. Growing up, I had learned about Masjid (Mosque) Al-Aqsa as one of the holiest Islamic sites. When Muslims pray today, we face Mecca, but that wasn’t always the case. The first time Muslims prayed, it was facing Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa. Next to Al-Aqsa is the Dome of the Rock, where Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven and met up with Musa (Moses), Isa (Jesus), Ibrahim (Abraham) and other prophets, peace be upon them all. So when I stepped foot in the compound of Al-Aqsa, I felt both at peace and in awe. It was as if, finally, after all the stories I had heard, I had found, for the first time in my life, a friend I longed to see. At the same time, I felt so unworthy. Here I was, a kid from New York, standing just a few feet away from where Muhammad ascended to heaven. I quietly walked into Masjid Al-Aqsa and sat down. I ran my hand gently on the soft red carpet, staring at the architecture and letting the emotions wash over me. A few minutes later I prayed and took my time, for I didn’t know the next time I’d be able to visit this friend.

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