So far, this blog has covered pretty frivolous topics. There was the quiz entitled “Which Bavarian beer festival are you?”. There was the humorous poem I dedicated to my travel buddy Carolyn. And I am currently working on a post entirely dedicated to the best butter pretzel in Munich.
But - if you will allow me - today I would like step away from this blithe and light-hearted tone to tackle a topic which goes a little bit beyond my usual emoji-referencing, pun-encrusted prose. You see I recently went to Jerusalem, and I had a bit of a revelation I would like to share.
Let me start by saying that Jerusalem is hands down one of the most fascinating places I have ever been to. Maybe even the MOST fascinating place on Earth (let me get back to you on that when I have seen all the places on Earth).
Let me break it down for you: Jerusalem is considered a sacred site by three of the largest religions in the world - Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Christian and - just to keep things interesting - Armenian. It is considered the capital of both Israel and Palestine. It has witnessed significant conflict, interchangeably besieged and occupied by various groups throughout history. The Persians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottoman empire, the British empire - basically any empire worth its pillaging-and-plundering salt has set up camp here at some point.
I chose to visit Jerusalem on one of the most significant days of the year. It was Easter Sunday in the Christian calendar and Passover in the Jewish calendar. I wish I could tell you this was thoughtfully planned out by me, but actually it was sheer ass. I didn’t even realise it was Easter Sunday until 11.00 am. #expat
I guess that history and contemporary politics would have me see the opportunity for conflict in this. It would have me notice the different groups in the different quarters with their different beliefs and see one big recipe for disaster.
Actually, what struck me about Jerusalem was not how different everyone was, but how similar we all are.
I have already mentioned that this is a place that is of sacred significance to three major religions. While I was I Jerusalem, I saw people from each of these faiths who had travelled to pay homage to their deity. They were all there following an education that had led them to believe that a certain way of life was a good one.
And don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t born yesterday. If this was the end of it we’d all hold hands, form a circle and sing Kumbaya. But it’s not. These people are all leading a life they think is good, but they are also leading a life they think is “right” and this is where shit gets complicated.
Jewish people are traditionally taught they are the chosen ones; that they have a divine entitlement to occupy this city and it's surrounding area. Muslim people have been traditionally taught to struggle against non-believers. And don’t even get me started on the Christians, who mounted several hundred years of crusades on this city to free it from its Muslim rulers at the time. It’s like a three-way tie of the World Cup and everyone thinks they should win. Only worse!
I grew up in one of the most multicultural cities in the world. I went to a High School where, as an Australian of British ancestry, I was actually a minority. I have travelled relatively extensively. I have friends and acquaintances from all corners of the world, from many different cultural and religious backgrounds, with many different political beliefs.
I know enough amazing people from different walks of life to claim that there is no right or wrong way to live our lives. Or more to the point, good people live their lives in very different ways. Yes, humans are capable of very shit things, but at the end of the day most of us are trying to live our lives in the way we have been taught is “right”. This means different things to different people, but essentially we are all united by trying to be good people.
I look at this place and wonder why these people can’t all get along? Why can’t they just live their lives the way they want to, and let others do likewise? And yet I am forced to accept that these idealistic musing are just as inextricably bound to my own social and cultural context.
I came to Jerusalem as a white middle-class female who was raised a very liberal, New-Agey Christian (I would describe my current religious status as: “It”s complicated”) in a country that has never known conflict. How easy it is for me to spout these idealisms given my own background. Am I not being extremely patronising and culturally superior myself? How “multi-cultural” are my friends anyway, and how “westernised” are they despite their backgrounds?
Yes, religion, culture and nationalism are all very heavy topics. I don’t know how culturally-biased my own vision of an ideal world is. I don’t know how practical or realistic it is. But the difference between MY ideal world and that of others is that everyone’s invited. Perhaps I WAS born yesterday, but I think that little difference is a start.