Put Your Best Foot Forward

I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the

Lord.”  And now our feet are standing within your gates,

Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, built as a city, walled round about.

Heres the tribes have come, the tribes of the Lord, as it was decreed

for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord.

Psalm 122:1-4

Approaching the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem for the first time is nothing short of daunting.  Not unlike laying your virgin eyes on one of the oceans, the walls command respect.  Just like the vast waters of the seas, they have stood the test of time as well as many wars.  They have both embraced and welcomed millions of people seeking refuge and pilgrimage, paying homage to their God or gods. Both inspire one to reflection and meditation.  Encircling a secret world filled with many diverse inhabitants, it is hard to tell just where both the ocean and the walls of the Old City begin and where they end.  Unlike the oceans, of course these strong structures were man-made and anyone is free to cross through the borders to experience what lies inside.

Our initial visit to these walls occurred on a hot Tuesday afternoon in June.  We arrived to the outer berth of the Jaffa gate after a short walk and it was here that we were to begin our tour of the Old City.  Here gathered a curious group of people of all ages and from all over the world with only two things in common: our desire to learn about Jerusalem and our ability to speak enough English to get by.

After a brief introduction, our guide led to the place where we were to enter into the Old City.  Stopping us, he explained that there is a very important tradition when entering the Holy City.  “When you pass through the gate,” he told us, “always put your best foot forward.”  We could pray or just think good thoughts, he said.  “Or, you can hop, jump, skip. You can go forwards, backwards, left foot first or right foot first. Whatever is your best foot.”

Most of the people in our group laughed and gave a little self-conscious hop as they crossed the threshold.  But our two youngest cared not who was staring at them.  Squealing with delight as they danced and twirled into the most holy city in the entire world, it was as if they were telling God, “We’re here!  We’re here!”

We would forget the best foot forward tradition as we crossed through that gate many more times in the next three weeks.  We would come to take the mighty walls of the Old City for granted just as one becomes accustomed to looking at the beauty of the ocean.  We would forget until our last day in Israel, an even hotter Saturday morning in June.  Approaching the Jaffa Gate, most of us laughed and gave a little self-conscious hop in, but not our two youngest.  Once again, Jerusalemites, pilgrims and tourists alike watched on as two little American girls squealed with delight, dancing and twirling into the most holy city in the world.  It was as if they were telling God, “We know we’ll be back someday!”

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