In this issue: A Perfect Day in Jerusalem with A Nearly Tragic Ending
Let’s Get the Formalities Out of the Way…
Why you’re getting this: I'm Yuri Kruman and this is my “Commander-In-Chief” Newsletter, based on my book, “Be Your Own Commander-in-Chief.” I send this to people in my LinkedIN and FB networks, people I’ve met recently, and friends I want to keep in touch with. You can unsubscribe (SEE THE VERY BOTTOM OF THE EMAIL) and I won’t be offended.
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How to Have Faith In a Brutal World Without Despairing
Over the last few days, we visited Jerusalem.
No trip here is truly a “visit.”
In truth, it’s very much a homecoming.
Jerusalem Syndrome is definitely a thing, to be sure.
But that’s not at all what I mean.
Aside from being a place of deep spiritual significance and innumerable holy places, indelible associations for Jews and other religions, the geo-political strife and the security situation, it is also a remarkable city of tremendous cultural significance, a place where many of our friends have made their home, a place with excellent food, music, art and… character.
Ever been to a place that just *speaks* to you? The stones, the streets, the architecture, the cafes, the people.
No, it’s not all Anglos and Frenchies and ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arabs living here, not only tourists visiting from all over the world (although… wow, tourism is definitely back with a vengeance, thank G-d).
Our reference point before this is coming here to visit the Kotel (Western Wall), Mahane Yehuda (the world-famous Jerusalem market turned upscale, open-air gastropub with vendors hawking everything you can imagine for insane prices), Ben Yehuda (a central tourist trap that feels like half of Queens is visiting to eat over-salted shawarma and over-sugared ice cream), plus a smattering of other tourist must-sees.
Yesterday morning, on Shabbat, we ventured up the mountain from where we were staying into the Bait VaGan (“house and garden”) neighborhood. Lots of Frenchies, gorgeous views of the city, plus plenty of that famous Jerusalem air.
The first thing that jumps out is the contrast to our Haifa air, which leaves something to be desired (remnants of heavy industry down below from us).
We meet a French couple with 2 kids, who tell us that many people walk to the Kotel (Western Wall) on Shabbat, about 50 minutes there.
The idea lights us up.
It’s always an extra special experience, but especially so on a day without all the stores open, the beggars asking for money, the insane crowds, the “move-it-right-along atmosphere.”
So after lunch and a good nap, we walked down one huge hill, up another massive hill, down a third passing a garden with dinosaurs, through the fashionable Rehavia area with the Prime Minister’s residence, by the U.S. Embassy, the King David Hotel, and eventually into the Mamilla Mall, which is a conduit into the Old City.
In the Armenian Quarter, through which we pass to get into the Jewish Quarter and eventually to the Western Wall, we see stores open, Armenian flags hanging next to Russian ones (which is a bit puzzling to me - perhaps someone reading can fill me in on why [other than that both are of the “Eastern Orthodox” faith?) and still a lot of activity for the Jewish day of rest.
Tourists are definitely out in force.
We follow the usual path through the cobblestone streets, past private homes, yeshivas, restaurants, through crowded plazas and stairs, eventually to the platform above the Western Wall Plaza.
Our 2 year-old son points to the black dome at the south of the plaza and yells “eh!” He’s big on pointing everything out.
Indeed, it’s as impressive a site as it gets for most Jews, and spiritual people, in general.
It’s not about politics, religious disagreement, who’s right or who’s wrong.
This is G-d’s house, so to speak. One of the names in Hebrew for the Temple Mount is “Mountain of the House.” The two Temples stood here. The Holy of Holies where the Chief Priest (Kohen Gadol) prayed on behalf of all the Jewish people, all stood on top there.
We may not have a Temple right this moment, but the Western Wall is a source of unity for all Jews who make their way here.
Jerusalem is well known for having a certain “elevated” vibe. Holy men and women (and yes, many crazies, as well) have made their way here to pray and live and purify and elevate themselves from the mundane for many centuries and millennia.
You don’t have to be a Jew or Muslim or Christian to feel a special warmth and pull toward the Divine, the Limitless, the Holy here.
It infuses everything. Some people are inspired. Others go certified crazy. Others get inspired. Some even get violent.
One thing this city is NOT, is neutral.
I go with my son to the Wall to find a prayer service. He keeps pointing up and saying “Bayit” (house).
I’m praying with a group of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Hungarian Jews (I can hear the accent [Umein!]).
One of them, in a golden silk robe, looks over at me and my son and smiles. I’m wearing a green t-shirt and shorts, just about as non-Haredi as it gets. But we acknowledged each other and found the common language that unites us, despite our different looks and traditions and ways of praying and seeing the world.
We are not so dissimilar, despite appearances. We both know why we’re here, how important it is for all of us to do what we’re doing here (pray, connect with each other).
We smile to each other and we part.
We meet up again with my wife and daughters.
The five of us spend the rest of Shabbat praying, having Seudat Shlishit (third meal) and otherwise soaking in the special atmosphere, looking for people we know.
As we stand there after sunset, waiting for 3 stars in the sky to signal the end of Shabbat, there is a deep serenity and gratitude for the moment, for being in Jerusalem with our people, who are here from all over the world.
It’s SUCH a special sensation, being fully present, without phones, without distractions, focused on what really matters in life. It’s downright supernatural.
I finish the evening prayer service back at the wall with a group of 10 “random” men.
We rush to the buses outside the plaza to catch the first bus out.
The lady we met earlier in the afternoon told us to take the 1.
Jerusalem being Jerusalem, there is a MASSIVE crowd gathered behind us to get on the bus.
Everyone is eager to get back home to their neighborhood.
Most are Haredi of various stripes.
The first bus arrives and it’s damn near a stampede.
It’s quite scary to see the sheer number of children, elders and children with children, strollers, effects, all streaming like arrows into a bus.
It made me think of those movies of Indian trains where people are hanging off every tiny indentation and on the roof.
Not quite as crazy, but not far behind.
We wait for the next bus, positioning ourselves strategically to get in the front.
We squeeze ourselves in, literally 2 adults and 3 kids into a single seat, with folded stroller, with me standing. Comfort isn’t a thing.
We ask whether this bus goes to our destination. 3 people, 4 opinions. Most say, no way, wrong bus.
Wrong neighborhood we turn into, clearly. All black hats.
We wait until the last stop, the Central Bus Station. We run up and down, then ask a few people for the right bus to our neighborhood.
Take the 39. Ok, from where? It’s all a giant mess of people, stops, numbers, policemen, soldiers, students. Ahh!!!
We find the 39 coming around the train station.
We get on, hoping this is the right one.
After 10 minutes and 1 stop, we’re where we need to be.
Damn, that was stressful! Late at night, no money on us, no ID, nothing at all (we don’t carry those on the Sabbath).
We’re beyond exhausted, both physically and emotionally.
Kids fall asleep quickly and my wife and I chat about the experience.
After a good sleep, I wake up and check my phone.
There was an attack… at the Western Wall… 4 hours after we left. A bus shot up, 8 wounded, a pregnant woman shot, her baby delivered and in critical condition.
Just like that, we’re thrown back into the sh*t.
But as Israelis do, we cringe at the news, yell silent curses at the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who want to kill us so much and often live next door, as this terrorist did, right in Jerusalem neighborhood.
We then quickly thank G-d for sparing us. And we continue on with life.
We thank G-d nobody was killed.
We realize our fortune at being spared to life another day.
We remain vigilant, but also full of life.
We visit the magical Israeli museum. We meet a friend for lunch.
And after lunch, we leave for Netanya to celebrate a friend’s son’s birthday.
Life goes right on.
Netanya’s packed to the gills. So much that it sets off my crowd freak-out.
What if there’s a terrorist here tonight?
What if I’m putting my family at risk?
What if we sit there, not here?
What are the escape routes from here?
Where’s my damn order? (I’m having a salad after a heavy food trip).
The kids are happy (they got their pasta and will get their ice cream later).
I’m late with sending a deck for work. Whatever, at this point.
We are lucky as anything to have such amazing friends, to live in such an amazing country, to live such a life of ready spirituality and nature and food…
To have such an immediate, in-your-face existence.
It ain’t easy… often, at all.
But we wouldn’t trade it for anything.
And as a leader, what do I think about?
Safety first, of course.
Escape routes. Defense mechanisms.
Security arrangements, cameras.
But above all, reliance on G-d.
G-d doesn’t owe us protection or sustenance.
Neither safety nor comfort.
We can perish at any moment (G-d forbid), but for some reason (maybe rational, maybe irrational, maybe revealed, maybe concealed), we get grace.
We get skipped for harm this time.
We avoid injury.
We get to live another day.
We get to enjoy our friends, nature, water, carbs galore.
We don’t know why. We try our best with good deeds, but there’s never a guarantee of anything.
Maybe death and taxes, blah blah.
But bottom line, you can be healthy or ill, strong or weak, Jew or Muslim or other flavor, young or old, but YOU. NEVER. KNOW. WHY (or why NOT) YOU or someone else, not or later.
You can ignore, guess, wonder, but you will never know.
And as a leader, not knowing what you don’t know need not cause sleepless nights and existential angst.
Far too much is beyond our control to worry. G-d has our back.
As long as we do our best to live a righteous life, do good deeds, help other people, pray and be mindful to the best of our ability, we give ourselves a good chance to live not just a decent or happy life, but a meaningful one.
There are no guarantees. No oaths or special deeds to prolong life with a guarantee of years lived.
Know before Whom you stand and never forget it.
Leadership only reinforces these point.
And if it doesn’t, it’s not really leadership.
Be blessed and stay well!
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