I've been to Jerusalem five times, and each time I learned something new. On my most recent trip, in June 2012, I learned June may not be the best time of year to visit: it was monstrously hot, and, frankly, I suffered!
Those wanting to see the heart of Jerusalem and experience its panorama of history, faith and culture can do so without worrying about heat stroke, hotel reservations or jet lag. Just take a trip to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History at 10th Street and Constitution Avenue on the Mall, and slip into the Imax theater.
There, larger than life, is "Jerusalem," a 44-minute documentary that is sure to enthrall and educate just about anyone who sees it.
Tracing 5,000 years of the city's history from its ancient Jebusite inhabitants to the Jews, Christians and Muslims who live there today, the film explains why the city is a holy site to so many people around the world. For Jews, it is not only an ancestral home, but also the place where it is believed prayers go directly to God. Christians revere Jerusalem as the city where Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. Muslims revere to be the path Jesus took on his way to crucifixion. For Muslims, Jerusalem is revered as "the city of the prophets," according to a news release advertising the film. "They believe Mohammed was taken on a miraculous journey from Mecca to Jerusalem where he ascended to Heaven on a ladder of light, the location of which is associated with the Dome of the Rock," the announcement noted.
Any good film benefits from a dramatic "device," and the one here is to tell Jerusalem through the eyes of three teenage girls — Farah Ammouri, Revital Zacharie, and Nadia Tadros — respectively, a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian. Each brings her religion's perspective to the cinematic conversation and from each we gain insights that might be new and are certainly interesting.
According to producers Taran Davies, George Duffield and Daniel Ferguson, "Our film is not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It embraces the idea that Jerusalem is many cities: imagined and real; past and present; Jewish, Christian, Muslim and secular. We are trying to answer the question: Why Jerusalem? What is it about this tiny space that made it the ultimate prize of empires and the object of longing for so many different cultures over thousands of years?"
Apparently, it began with water, underground springs of fresh water, a commodity in short supply in the midst of the Canaanite desert. The rocky outcropping on which the Dome of the Rock now sits and where the former first and second Jewish Temples stood is also revered as the place where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac at God's command, before an angel stayed the patriarch's hand and a ram was found for the sacrifice. Add in the visit of Mohammed and the final days of Jesus in Jerusalem, and the city has become both a religious destination for millions as well as a cultural center.
"It wasn't until the second audition that I found out what the movie is actually about," Miss Ammouri, the youngest of the three teenagers, said in a statement. "There have been a lot of political movies made about the conflict between us Palestinians and Israelis, and what I liked about this movie was that it shows what's really behind the politics, how our lives really are, how we live in Jerusalem and how we are all attached to the Old City in our own ways."
I found the film and the cinematography breathtaking, the archaeological details — provided by Jodi Magness, an archaeologist and professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill — intriguing, and the personal stories compelling. Even having been to Jerusalem five times over the years, I learned a lot from this movie, and I believe you will, too.
• Mark A. Kellner can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.