Diary of a World Traveller
by Simon Jacobson
Monday, August 21, 2001, 6:00 AM, JFK airport
Disembarking El Al flight 031 from Tel Aviv to New York on a
flight that saw darkness extend over the globe left me reeling.
When you fly west at night you see many sunsets, many nights
descending, as you soar from light to dark (to be exact, 19
hours of night from Israel to NY, 12 in Israel and 7 more time
difference). I guess if I kept flying west, night would never
Overwhelming is the only word I can use to describe my one week
in East Jerusalem, on the Eastern border of the Promised Land
at the center of the universe. Millions of Jews pray
toward the East, toward the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and here
I am sitting Friday night on a rooftop overlooking the Mount.
In this center vortex lies concentrated in microcosm the entire
universe: the battle between good and evil, the diversity if
not divisiveness of Jew and Jew. The war between Jew and Arab
a 4000 year struggle between Isaac and Ishmael, children
And now, with the latest escalation of violence in the region,
all layers have been stripped. The true state of affairs has
emerged as we are unable to hide behind illusions of prosperity
and comfort zones. Vulnerability has a way of exposing the raw
nerves and revealing the underlying truths that even at the
center of the universe can sometimes be obscured.
I stand at the Western Wall Friday night and see Jews of all
backgrounds, groups that anywhere else in the world can only
be found in separate synagogues: Sephardic and Ashkenazic, Chassidic
and Litvish, Orthodox and secular, Carlebachniks and Breslovniks,
tourists and locals. Kipot (headcoverings) of every fabric and
Jews pray at the Wall a broken remnant of the walls surrounding
the Temple, just feet away from two beautiful Islam edifices
(mosques), and many Christian ones. Yet, the words of my masters
resonate loudly: Nothing is as complete as a broken heart.
The Jewish people reflect the reality of life today: a remnant
of a purer world. A perfect and complete edifice would not do
justice to the world in which we live. We do not live in a perfect
world, and recognizing that is half the cure half the
journey to reaching perfection.
As we stare at the Temple Mount while eating Shabbat dinner,
I think of another group who once stared at this very sight.
Where was Rabbi Akiva standing when he looked at the barren
Temple mount and laughed while his colleagues cried? Were they
perhaps standing on this very spot?
Rabbi Akiva laughed because within the loss he saw the hope.
Within the desolation he felt the redemption. Yes, you need
Rabbi Akiva's eyes, but once he saw it, it helps us all see.
Perhaps only by closing our eyes can we see best.
As I roamed the stoned corridors of the Jewish Quarter in the
Old City, I could not help but think: who walked here before
me? Was it the High Priest on his way to the Holy of Holies
on Yom Kippur? Was it Abraham carrying Isaac to the Akeidah?
Was it King David preparing the ground for building the Holy
Temple? How many footsteps have tread over this very ground
where I walk, talk, eat Falafel and sleep? As sacred as people
could ever be in Jerusalem today, could they ever match and
compete with the sheer power of timeless Divinity saturating
this very earth and stones?
The people of Israel are mere props on a stage set by G-d to
be His center of the universe. In this place the Promised
Holy Land everything that exists outside is played out
in the most extreme ways, crystallized in its concentrated form,
as a kernel that contains and shapes the macrocosm. Yet, the
light of Eretz Yisroel is so powerful that it cannot be seen
by us mortals. Unless... we close our eyes.
And then I fly from east to west from light to dark.
From a blinding light to a clear night, from a light I only
barely feel to a darkness that I can see and convince myself
And then we land...
Monday, August 21, 7:00 PM, East Hampton, NY
East Hampton: the ultimate vacation escape, summer getaway
of choice a charming paradise, attracting artists and
writers as well as casual vacationers, with its pristine beaches
and exciting nightlife. The home to many of Americas movers
and shakers, engaged in the endless dance of social climbing
In this capital of the ence's affluence,
opulence and indulgence, I am speaking on Kabbala to a group
of distinguished East Hamptonites in The Ross Institute of Well-Being,
founded by Courtney Ross, wife of the late Steven J. Ross, CEO
of Time Warner. In this Platonic environment, in an extraordinary
complex of buildings, meticulously designed in exquisite, exotic
colors and shapes a yeshiva bochur, namely me, is delivering
a lecture on Jewish mysticism: how the ancient wisdom of the
Kabbalah can bring meaning and divinity to our ordinary
Could not help but think of the irony the bizarre coincidence
of just coming off the plane from Jerusalem and virtually
landing in East Hampton. Just hours ago I was sitting in a cafe
in the Old City, and now touring the elaborate Zen-like kitchens
of the Ross Institute, with their cutting edge porcelain sinks
and Oriental seating. Just last night, standing before the 2000
year old Wall where was East Hampton 2000 years ago,
does anyone know what was happening here 20 centuries ago, even
4 centuries ago?
And here I am trying to share Jerusalem with East Hampton...
But I believe that I was successful. Mind you, not due to my
own efforts, but to the synergy of 60 women and men in search.
In search of truth and of happiness trying to make some
sense of this chaotic world. People sharing sacred moments attempting
to discover our unique mission statement, our indispensable
contribution to life. Trying to find our center amidst the din
of many loud circles.
One cannot create a perfect circle without a firm center. Traveling
back to the circle from the center challenges us to join the
two. We are the spokes that must integrate a center into the
complex circles we draw in our lives. The paradox today is this:
The center of Jerusalem is invisible until we create our circle.
The center is not our creation, but the circle is. In the West
we must create our "Jerusalem." In Israel we cannot.
So though we have a blind center from which to draw, it is only
after we create the circle that the center comes alive and real.
A circle cannot be complete without a center, but a center manifests
no physical space without a circle. Strangely, our circle defined
by the hub of Jerusalem, helps us all find our way back to the
And that is our calling today: To refine and transform
our East Hamptons into the Promised Land.
By doing so, we contribute to fueling the spiritual center of
our lives, that is ultimately the only lasting way to bring
peace and harmony between all peoples, Jew and Jew, Arab and
Jew the absolute recognition that our circles are all
driven by the One Center, you know who.
Transitions are never easy. Especially when coming from heaven
on return from Jerusalem to New York