Professor to address Jerusalems beautiful, tragic past and future

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"Jerusalem," contends religious studies Professor Thomas Idinopulos, "will never be neutral, pragmatic or secular."

"The city is a concentration of holy places, but for all these centuries it has been embattled. It's a home of prophets and priests, but has known an enormous amount of bloodshed. It's a beautiful city — and it's a tragic city."

Idinopulos, author of "Jerusalem Blessed, Jerusalem Cursed: Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Holiest City," will be the keynote speaker at the Jerusalem 3000 Symposium Sunday, May 19 at University of San Francisco's McLaren Auditorium.

The event, titled "Sanctity and Strife for Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Holy City," will be chaired by Lonny Darwin, who produces the "Insider's Guide to Arts, Culture and Sports in Israel." Professor emeritus William Brinner, former Near East studies chair at U.C. Berkeley, will moderate a panel representing different religious perspectives.

"We don't expect to come up with any answers, but we anticipate a provocative afternoon," said Idinopulos, who teaches Jewish and Holocaust studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Idinopulos, who is married to an Israeli and spends summers in Israel, has had a 20-year-plus love affair with the City of Gold and recently completed a piece about Jerusalem for Colliers Encyclopedia.

Raised by a Greek Orthodox mother in an Italian, Greek and Jewish neighborhood of Portland, Ore., Idinopulos says the tangled emotional history of the people and religions of Jerusalem hooked him on his first visit in 1973.

That first trip, on a lecture tour at the Ecumenical Institute of Advanced Theological Studies, planted the seed that changed both his life and his career. Just a few days after his arrival, the Yom Kippur War broke out.

"I had never been in a war before and I found it immensely exciting," he recalled. He passed the time talking to people — Arabs, Jews and even newly arrived Russian immigrants — and was so overwhelmed by what he learned that he was compelled to write about it.

Returning to Jerusalem a few years later to research a series of articles for Christian Century magazine, Idinopulos began talking to Jerusalemites again.

"I talked to everyone who would talk to me — from Yitzhak Rabin when he was between jobs to the street cleaner and the peasant."

Idinopulos' insight and fresh perspective brought respect, and with it invitations from diverse leaders for consultation: Jerusalem's then-Mayor Teddy Kollek asked him to be a visiting scholar at the cultural center of the Jerusalem Foundation; Jordan `s Crown Prince Hassan invited him to confer with political leaders on the future of Jerusalem.

"Jerusalem Blessed, Jerusalem Cursed" took 12 years to write and five years to get published. Still, "I got a lot of nice comments from publishers, but they didn't give me a contract."

Finally, he signed a contract with a privately owned publisher, Ivan R. Dee Inc. of Chicago, which "took a risk."

The company's risk paid off when the book received a favorable review in The New York Times. Writer Jerrold D. Green said, "Rather than retrace old ground, [Idinopulos] vivifies the stale yet lethal dispute by providing parallel histories of Jerusalem as it exists in the hearts, minds and souls of the three religions…" The book is now also available in paperback.

Idinopulos calls his next book, "Land Weathered by Miracles," an "interpretive book of the land." It will recount the history of Israel from the days of Napoleon Bonaparte to David Ben-Gurion and the founding of the state of Israel. Now in the works, it is also scheduled for publication by Ivan R. Dee.

Idinopulos' keynote presentation will be preceded by workshops on a number of topics: Jerusalem's archaeology with Jehon Grist, associate director of Lehrhaus Judaica; Jerusalem's architecture with Lawrence Halprin, landscape architect; Jerusalem's photographic diversity with Susan Katz, photographer; poetry of Jerusalem with Chana Bloch, professor of English at Mills College in Oakland; and radar-mapping of the Temple Mount with Lambert T. Dolphin, a retired Peninsula geophysicist who participated in an SRI International project in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem 3000 Symposium is sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council and Jewish Community Federation, the Northern California Board of Rabbis and the Consulate General of Israel. This event has been made possible through a grant from the JCF's Jewish Community Endowment Fund.