To get to Jerusalem from Amman, you would have to get to the Jordanian security checkpoint at King Husseyn (Allenby) Bridge, cross the bridge itself (a mere few minutes of a bus ride the last time I did it!), pass the Israeli security which is as detailed a process as it is humiliating, and then walk onto a clearing of taxis and more buses. You’re in the desert now; the air is thick and the sun is shameless. The negotiation is fast, and you’re on your way, a bit relieved and ready to talk to the driver in the Arabic you thought you had forgotten. He is jovial, and nicotine-voiced, and the surroundings are as sallow and lusterless, the desert cradling you as it were, time suspended almost, and not a living creature around you except you, the driver, and the anticipation. And on like this for half and hour through winding roads and hazy skies.
It takes a split second. The taxi swerves; the silence breaks;and in the distance, far from the noise and the hustle and bustle of life is a beautiful sight. The day is warm, the sky is clear, and in the distance is Qubbat al-Sakhra, known as the Dome of the Rock. It is a majestic site towering over the Old City, the dome itself a deep gold, which takes on an intense, other-worldly shine under the mid-day sun.
Set against the intense blue of Jerusalem’s sky, the dome looks as if it did actually descend from heaven, that it is of this wretched world but also of another. And beneath it, the Old City itself, village-town of faith and madness, its cobblestone streets sites of beauty and zeal, tension and tenderness—a place like no other, even now.
That’s the entrance to Jerusalem that I know, have known all the times I have been in the city. Things may have changed from the time I was there a decade ago, but that’s not important. Jerusalem is also of the imagination. And the news that snow is falling in the Old City today is as unsettling as it is exciting, exciting to imagine my Jerusalem transformed like that, the dome holding layers of snow on its radiant curve, from the distance of the taxi , the brick roofs carpets of white, and the religious sites–the mosques, the synagogues, the churches—made small and modest, all part of climate and geography.
And because Jerusalem is also of the imagination, in my mind’s eye this snow-clad Jerusalem finds a place near the sun-soaked one, as its double, or other, or prodigal variant, the two living together not so much in harmony (that would be boring for a mad place like Jerusalem) but in some arrangement yet-undefined. But for today, nothing seems more joyful than the sight of people making snow figures in the open expanse of the Dome of the Rock, joyful and so unexpected.
Oh, Jerusalem, chart and destination, golden and white, pious and mercurial, heavenly and profane, place of birth and of longing—for all.