On the Eve of the First Light of Hanukah: An Ecumenical Moment at the Muristan!

The Muristan, (from Persian: “Bimaristan” meaning “hospital”), is located in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.  Since the second century common era there have been hospitals there.  However, the name “Muristan” is closely identified with only two of those hospitals.  One was founded by the Knights Hospitallers of the Sovereign Military Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta around 1023.  The other was a lunatic asylum installed inside a former Crusader church in 1216 by the nephew of Sultan Saladin after the 1187 Siege of Jerusalem.  There are no hospitals there today but in stubborn Middle Eastern fashion the area retains its old name.
One can read about the battle which took place in the Muristan during the Maccabean Revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the Second Book of the Maccabees.  A further review of Jewish, Roman, Byzantine, Moslem and Crusader Christian histories all tell one story – The Muristan and the area just to the north of it, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, have throughout time witnessed the expression of great hatred between the three monotheistic religions.  Sadly, fierce fighting and much blood shed are the historical portion of this place.  And yet it is one of the most beautiful areas in the Old City.  It includes surviving walls from the late Middle Ages, which today surround the colorful shops and restaurants of Suq Aftimos a mixed Moslem and Christian market.
Being Jerusalemites, Jay and I enjoy finding any small reason to go on walk about in the Old City.  This time our excuse was that we were out of coffee beans.  We went to the Old City to buy coffee beans in the Moslem Quarter because the coffee shops there have a very good selection at reasonable prices.  Our walk took us from the Jaffa Gate through the Christian Quarter past the Muristan.  As Jay and I were talking about celebrating the first candle of Hanukah with dear friends our conversation was interrupted by a loud sing-song chant coming from around the other corner of Suq Aftimos in the Muristan.  At first we couldn’t make out the words.  Then, as a large group of Kenyan Christian Pilgrims, carrying small Kenyan flags and all wearing the same bright African floral print outfits, came around the corner the song they sang became clean and clear.  They were singing a capella in English: “We are here for You! Oh Lord! We are here for You!” over and over in rich bass tones.  It was so moving that I became caught up in the moment and without thinking I loudly called out to Jay: “Stop! You must stop! Look how beautiful they are!” Just then a Moslem shopkeeper turned to face me and looking out at the Kenyan Christian Pilgrims answered back to me: “Blessing! Yes, you are right they are truly beautiful!” Perhaps it was my own wishful thinking, because Jay and I had been talking about Hanukah, The Jewish Festival of Lights, but right there in the Muristan with its sad and bloody history, I felt that for one singular moment somewhere between the singing Kenyan Christian Pilgrims, the Moslem shopkeeper, and we two Jews a tiny bit of healing and sharing of G-d’s goodness had occurred for and between all of us, His children, members of the three monotheistic faiths. “We are here for You! AdoShem! We are here for You!”
Shalom, Salaam, Peace for Jerusalem!
And appropriate seasonal greetings to all!

2 responses to “On the Eve of the First Light of Hanukah: An Ecumenical Moment at the Muristan!

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