I’ve come back to this city where names
are given to distances as if to human beings
and the numbers are not of bus routes
but: 70 After, 1917, 500
B.C., Forty eight. These are the lines
You really travel on.
Yehuda Amichai, Poems of Jerusalem
Like New York, Paris, or Rome, Jerusalem is the type of city where two realities exist: the one you see out the windows of your tour bus, and the one you see from within the crowded confines of a public bus.
Last week as I rode bus #74 to school, I was sandwiched between a young kippah-wearing soldier with an M16, an elderly hijab-wearing Muslim woman, and a older French man with a lit cigarette in his mouth. This is the true Yerushalayim Shel Ma’alah – the heavenly Jerusalem.
It was recently pointed out to me that the bus routes in Jerusalem aren’t arbitrarily given. They don’t go in any geographical/numerical order. Like the Zohar, they contain a secret code. Hiding in plain sight, they actually have great meaning.
Bus route numbers in Jerusalem correspond to important dates and gematria-related concepts. I take either the 71, 72, 74, or 75 buses to school. And since nothing in Jerusalem is light or easy, this means I actually take the following buses:
- The “Destruction of the Second Temple” bus (71)
- The “Siege of Masada” bus (72)
- The “Fall of Masada” bus (74)
(I’m having trouble tracking down what happened in the year 75 (BCE or CE). It could be either the birth of Hillel, the authorship of Josephus’s The Wars of the Jews, or maybe the Sinai Interim Agreement of 1975 CE… or something entirely different.)
Of course, you could also take the “Babylonian Exile” bus (586), the “Reunification of Jerusalem” bus (67) or the “Chai” bus (18).
This is how we travel in Jerusalem. Nothing in the city is without hidden or deeper meaning. Yehuda Amichai would caution – poetically – against imbuing inanimate objects with meaning at the exclusion of human beings, but there is something to be said about how a culture sanctifies ordinary and everyday things – like riding a crowded bus – with elements from a sacred and holy past.