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Avraham Burg Headshot

Oy Jerusalem, Oh My God!

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Provided you are an average westerner and not a news-addicted consumer, hearing the name Jerusalem probably evokes positive feelings in you. You imagine a city with a rich and glorious past, and the great people who walked its streets. It is the cradle of both biblical and western civilization, the city about which history's most touching poems were written and a destiny of eternal longings. Its special light and atmosphere inspired King David and Jesus Christ, as well as thinkers, singers, lovers, and believers.

Yet for those of you who are news junkies and are up-to-date on the city's current events, then you, like me and many others, are saddened when you hear the word Jerusalem, the city of negative spiritually, religious tension, and embarrassing political news.

What happened that tainted Jerusalem's image, transforming it from an iconic city of peace and reconciliation to the current most conflict-ridden, volatile center of urban hatred in the west? Quite simply, it became the front line of a clash between deities: Elohim, the Jewish God, versus Allah, and both of them against the Christian God. The tortured city is torn between faiths and believers, each and every one of which is confident and deeply persuaded that he is right and can do no wrong. (Unfortunately, as a side effect, it is not a city of She's but of He's only.) The Jerusalem of today symbolizes everything that went wrong with monotheism.

Contemporary Jerusalem is a binary reality. It is either you or me but never both of us. It is either my God or your Allah, but the two can never cohabitate. In every traditional "mono" concept, there is no room for stereo sounds or pluralistic voices. As a consequence, the city of many peoples, the city of love and peace, is today the most violent religious front in the western world.

The situation in Jerusalem is unique in that the social, political, and religious diversity is coupled with extremism. Other hubs of religious extremism do not compare. In Iran, Muslims are isolated and alone, and Rome is almost entirely Christian. Only in Jerusalem we all gather and collide daily. We fight until the last one stands. Jerusalem has become the active arena of world zealousness, fanaticism, and extremism, all of which is done on behalf of "my" God. Everything -- blood and hatred included -- is dedicated to The One of love and peace. This continues as if history never happened here. No one seems to have learned a thing about suicidal extremism and the resulting destruction of the city.

Can there be another way? There must be. There has to be. As numbered as we are, there are still many of us, traditionalists and modern people alike, who do not share the binary mentality in any sphere of our life. We are the post-mono people. We understand the complexities of our times. We realize that in order to live together happily, we must develop life skills and comprehensive tolerance to contain many contradictions. We assume that we do not have the entire truth on our side only. We accept our fellow human out of respect but also because we assume that there is a seed of truth in his or her faith and religion. We do not claim to have an absolute monopoly over the truth, and we are happy to be enriched by schools of thought, ideas, and convictions different from ours. We listen, we learn, we argue, we make room for the birth and creation of a new synthesis between our thesis and the other antithesis.

This is possible only in places in which the values of modernity have merged with those of faith of religion. This has not yet happened in Jerusalem. There the Gods are still raw. Fortunately, we are patient. In the meantime, God help us.