JERUSALEM — There is something special when preconceptions dissolve on your first encounter with a new person or place.
As I disembarked a flight at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, I felt some apprehension arriving in Israel so soon after the Gaza flotilla episode, and forebodings of more troubles ahead.
But the warmth with which I was greeted and waved through passport control immediately made me feel at home in the country where I had come on a personal journey.
Beholding Jerusalem for the first time nestled in the folds of the Judean Mountains was a stunning experience.
I felt entirely disarmed of everything I had read, thought and anticipated about the city by the sheer majesty of its grandeur before me.
I arrived on a Saturday, when practically all of Jerusalem shuts down for the Jewish Sabbath.
The Old City was open, however, and after a brief rest I headed down Jaffa Rd., Jerusalem’s main artery, for my first visit to the Holy Sanctuary or, in Arabic, al-Quds Sharif.
An ancient Jewish saying goes: “There is no beauty like the beauty of Jerusalem.”
A nearly full moon over the walls of the Old City adorned the evening sky when I found my way to the mosque known as Dome of the Rock.
It is from here, the Islamic tradition narrates, Muhammad ascended to heaven on his night journey.
I joined the evening prayer congregation at the Dome and bowed, knelt and touched the sacred soil of Jerusalem with my forehead as recitations from the Qur’an floated out into the stillness of the moonlit sky above the square.
Later I walked over to the Western Wall, where a large number of Jews of all ages were gathered at the end of their Shabbat.
I made my way to the Wall, stood alongside men wrapped in their prayers, and offered my own to the God of Abraham and all the prophets descended from him.
Sitting in the plaza of the Wall it became once more evident to me what I have known for some time.
The mystical meaning of Muhammad’s night journey — irrespective of whether it was figurative or literal — speaks to the oneness of creation, of Abraham’s surrender to God, and the affirmation of his sacred ties with prophets before him.
The outer dimension of the human story with its inflated account of fire and blood cannot silence the inner yearnings of the heart’s surrender to God for peace that Jerusalem symbolizes, despite her sorrows and the repeated failure of the faithful who desires to embrace or possess her.
The ease with which I moved — alone and without restrictions — from the inner sanctum of the Muslim sanctuary to Judaism’s holiest site, embracing both, is a testimony to the openness of Israel as a Jewish state and democracy.
Palestinian, Arab and Muslim narratives of Jerusalem’s recent history, however, is a denial of what my experience affirms, and the larger denial of Jewish rights that is the source of conflict here.
Yet peace, I believe, shall descend in the Holy Land when Muslims take to heart the original sacred purpose of Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem.