Scholars, clergy savor love affair with City of Gold

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It was an afternoon of love.

After the Bay to Breakers finished weaving its way through town, a marathon of Jerusalem worship hit its stride at the University of San Francisco, where about 200 fans of the ancient city gathered Sunday for an all-day symposium.

Professors and religious leaders spoke passionately about the city, which is turning 3,000 this year.

"My wife says I have a mistress — and her name is Jerusalem," said Rabbi David Teitelbaum, executive director of the Northern California Board of Rabbis and rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Jacob in Redwood City.

A panel discussion featuring Teitelbaum and several Christian leaders followed workshops on Jerusalem's past and present.

And while the event was titled "Jerusalem at 3,000: Sanctity and Strife For Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Holy City," there was far more talk of "sanctity" than "strife."

In fact, no representative from the Muslim community was on hand, although the event's organizers said they had invited Muslim speakers to participate.

The symposium — part of Jerusalem 3000, the monthlong celebration of Jerusalem's trimillennium — did not spark heated debate about the city's ownership or its future. Instead, it was a day of verbal snapshots, of poetic descriptions and personal anecdotes.

Keynote speaker Thomas Idinopulos, a professor at Ohio's Miami University who has written several books on Jerusalem, recalled the Moroccan Jewish cab driver who drove him into the City of Gold on his first visit in 1973.

The ride was scary and the conversation was enlightening, but it was the scenery that took Idinopulos' breath away.

"There it was," he recalled, "I saw it uplifted and withdrawn, under all the arched heavens of its history." He went on to describe the city's "intoxicating scent of jasmine" and the "thousands of diamond stars bursting forth with light."

Veering momentarily from prose as sunny as a summer morning in the Old City, Idinopulos did admit that "strife and sanctity and suffering mix in bewildering combinations" in Jerusalem, adding that "Muslims, Jews and Christians live in isolated ghettos, eyeing the others across town with suspicion and fear."

Mostly, however, he and others focused on Jerusalem's majesty and beauty and on how much the city means to three major faiths.

The Rev. Douglas Huneke, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, had his own wild cab-ride story — and his own recollection of seeing Jerusalem for the first time.

Huneke said he would never forget the city's "grip, its ease," and spoke of sharing Shabbat dinner with Jewish friends in Israel. He described the day of rest in Jerusalem as a time when "the secular and the sacred find a moment in common."

In a more theological presentation, the Rev. Frank Norris, a Catholic leader from St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, said Jerusalem is no less than a symbol of heaven itself.

"Jerusalem is important as the most powerful symbol of God's presence to his human creatures, God's presence to all of humanity."

While Norris stressed that it is crucial for Catholics to have "an acknowledged right" to visit their holy sites in the city, he said the Christian relationship to Jerusalem "is not the same as the Jewish claim to the land."

Echoing the sentiment of many Jewish leaders — a sentiment that has been attacked by Arabs and Israelis of other faiths, Teitelbaum ended the panel discussion by calling Jerusalem "the eternal capital of the Jewish people."

The lectures were followed by Middle Eastern music by Bridges, a group featuring both Arab and Jewish musicians.

The symposium, third in the Bay Area's series of four major Jerusalem 3000 events, was 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.

Program chairman William Lowenberg said the series of events, which has included a rock concert and an official reception, is intended to help Bay Area residents "remember how important Jerusalem is not only to Jews, which is obvious, but also to Western civilization."

After hours of slides, similes and love stories, it would be hard to forget.