Over the last two weeks, I have become increasingly convinced that for too many people, their love of Jerusalem is inversely proportional to their wisdom about the city’s future. From left to right, we have seen the same old arguments, hurts, and charges traded. It’s time for a fresh perspective.
On March 28, Homer and the rest of the Simpson family will head to Jerusalem. This much fought-over city, and all those who fight over it, could learn a thing or two from the big yellow guy and his experiences there.
At the urging of their all-too-sweet, but entirely sincere “very Christian” neighbor, Ned Flanders, the Simpsons will visit the holy land in the hope that it will inspire them to be better people. That alone is revolutionary. Imagine — people visiting sites of spiritual significance not primarily to rally around a particular flag or faith, but in order to become better human beings. For that insight alone, the show’s producers are to be congratulated. And it works, sort of.
Homer comes down with a bit of Jerusalem syndrome. This is an actual psychological disorder in which visitors to the holy city become convinced they are the Messiah. Apparently Homer doesn’t get that wacky, but he does become convinced that he can unite the world’s Abrahamic faiths around the fact that they all like chicken.
Rather than see this as mocking Jerusalem, the importance different faiths attach to it, or even Homer, the show reminds us that Jerusalem, like any spiritual center, can wake up our best angels (the desire to see people united) and our worst demons (the arrogance to think that we alone know how to do it). It also points out that it’s not always clear, even to those with the best of intentions, which is which.
At a moment when Jerusalem is very much in the news, and activities there are so capable of dividing even the best of friends, that seems like a good thing to bear in mind. What it would mean to see one’s greatest fidelity to the importance of Jerusalem as being a commitment to it being a place of maximal unity? What would it mean to stop fighting over who cares about the city more and ask what each community could do to move in that direction.
Battling over who has the right to do what is not a recipe for success, unless by success one means eternal battling. If we want something else, all parties to this ongoing conflict are going to have to start with new premises and Homer Simpson’s might not be the worst place to begin.
The rabbis of the Talmud imagined a Jerusalem not unlike Homer’s, at least in one very significant way. They imagined a city which actually expanded to make room for all those who wanted to be there. Without necessarily buying into that supernatural architectural plan, I wonder what would happen if that notion of a non-zero sum city guided all subsequent conversations about who builds where, what they build, what we mean by sovereignty, etc.
Perhaps that it too much to ask for, but if it’s something upon which ancient sages and a contemporary cartoon character can agree on, perhaps we should give it a shot.