I just got back from a wonderful trip to Israel and Jordan, and I want to share with you an experience I had while in Jerusalem. Joel and I walked through the middle of town to the edge of the Meah Shearim neighborhood, home to the most Ultra-Orthodox of Jews. The streets were crowded and noisy, construction projects and everyday commerce taking place side by side. Men with black hats crammed into buses while women in scarves and long dresses corralled bunches of tiny children along the narrow sidewalks.
We walked down Rehov Hanevi’im, Street of the Prophets, searching for the building we wanted. When at last we found Number 37, we turned into a security gate set into a 125-year-old stone wall. I felt like Alice stepping through the looking glass as we entered and found a green square of lush gardens and heavy shade trees. In the far right corner of the courtyard, pomegranates hung like so many crimson ornaments from one tree. Next to it was a single lime tree, its fruit and leaves emitting a heavenly citrus fragrance.
Set right in downtown Jerusalem, home to the world’s three major religions, this oasis is Hadassah College.
In the emerald green quad, tiny by U.S. standards, secular and Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Christians and Muslims, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, and Bedouin gathered. All were excited to be starting a new school year, the first-year students a bit nervous as well. I had the opportunity to talk with some of these students, half of whom are the first in their families to go to college.
Once in the classroom, these students from such diverse backgrounds learn together and get to know each other as human beings, apart from politics. At this little oasis in the heart of the city we had the unique opportunity to see the people who are our future: bridging divides through work, and from there to building friendships and, one can only hope, ultimately to building bridges to peace.
In that peaceful environment, I couldn’t help thinking of the passage from the Book of Micah (4:4): Each of them will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.”
Instead of a fig tree and vine, the College has pomegranates and limes, but in an environment that quiet and lush, perhaps a seed of peace can take root.