Monday, August 21, 2001, 6:00 AM, JFK airport

Disembarking El Al flight 031 from Tel Aviv to New York, a flight that saw darkness extend over the globe and left me reeling. When you fly west at night you see many sunsets, many nights descending, as you soar from light to dark (to be exact, 19 hours of night from Israel to NY, 12 hours of flying and 7 more time difference). I guess if I kept flying west, night would never end.

Overwhelming is the only word I can use to describe my one week in East Jerusalem, on the eastern border of the Promised Land — at the center of the universe. Millions of Jews pray toward the east, toward the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and here I was sitting Friday night on a rooftop overlooking the Mount.

In this center/vortex lies concentrated in microcosm the entire universe: the battle between good and evil, the diversity if not divisiveness of Jew and Jew. The war between Jew and Arab — a 4000-year struggle between Isaac and Ishmael, children of Abraham.

And now, with the latest escalation of violence in the region, all layers have been stripped away. The true state of affairs has emerged as we are unable to hide any longer behind illusions of prosperity and comfort zones. Vulnerability has a way of exposing the raw nerves and revealing the underlying truths that even at the center of the universe can sometimes be obscured.

I stand at the Western Wall Friday night and see Jews of all backgrounds, groups that anywhere else in the world can only be found in separate synagogues: Sephardic and Ashkenazic, Chassidic and Litvish, Orthodox and secular, Carlebachniks and Breslovers, tourists and locals. Kipot (headcoverings) of every fabric and color.

Jews pray at the Wall — a broken remnant of the walls surrounding the Temple, just feet away from two beautiful Islamic edifices and many Christian ones. Yet, the words of my masters resonate loudly: "Nothing is as complete as a broken heart." The Jewish people reflect the reality of life today: a remnant of a purer world. A perfect and complete edifice would not do justice to the world in which we live. We do not live in a perfect world, and recognizing that is half the cure — half the journey to reaching perfection.

As we stare at the Temple Mount while eating Shabbat dinner, I think of another group who once stared at this very sight. Where was Rabbi Akiva standing when he looked at the barren Temple mount and laughed while his colleagues cried? Were they perhaps standing on this very spot?

Rabbi Akiva laughed because within the loss he saw the hope. Within the desolation he felt the redemption. Yes, you need Rabbi Akiva's eyes, but once he saw it, it helps us all see. Perhaps only by closing our eyes can we see best.

As I roamed the stoned corridors of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, I could not help but think: who walked here before me? Was it the High Priest on his way to the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur? Was it Abraham leading Isaac to the Akeidah? Was it King David preparing the ground for building the Holy Temple? How many footsteps have tread over this very ground where I walk, talk, eat falafel and sleep? As sacred as people could ever be in Jerusalem today, could they ever match and compete with the sheer power of timeless Divinity saturating this very earth and stones?

The people of Israel are mere props on a stage set by G‑d to be His center of the universe. In this place — the Promised Holy Land — everything that exists outside is played out in the most extreme ways, crystallized in its concentrated form, as a kernel that contains and shapes the macrocosm. Yet, the light of Eretz Yisrael is so powerful that it cannot be seen by us mortals. Unless... we close our eyes.

And then I fly from east to west — from light to dark. From a blinding light to a clear night, from a light I only barely feel to a darkness that I can see and convince myself is light.

And then we land...

Monday, August 21, 7:00 PM, East Hampton, NY

East Hampton: the ultimate vacation escape, summer getaway of choice — a charming paradise, attracting artists and writers as well as casual vacationers, with its pristine beaches and exciting nightlife. The home to many of America’s movers and shakers, engaged in the endless dance of social climbing and posturing.

In this capital of the ence's — affluence, opulence and indulgence, I am speaking on Kabbalah to a group of distinguished East Hamptonites in The Ross Institute of Well-Being, founded by Courtney Ross, wife of the late Steven J. Ross, CEO of Time Warner. In this Platonic environment, in an extraordinary complex of buildings, meticulously designed in exquisite, exotic colors and shapes, a yeshiva bochur, namely myself, is delivering a lecture on Jewish mysticism: how the ancient wisdom of the Kabbalah can bring meaning and divinity to our "ordinary" world.

I could not help but think of the irony — the bizarre coincidence — of just coming off the plane from Jerusalem and virtually landing in East Hampton. Hours ago I was sitting in a cafe in the Old City, and now I'm touring the elaborate Zen-like kitchens of the Ross Institute, with their porcelain sinks and Oriental seating. Just last night, standing before the 2000 year old Wall — where was East Hampton 2000 years ago, does anyone know what was happening here 20 centuries ago, even 4 centuries ago?

And here I am trying to share Jerusalem with East Hampton... But I believe that I was successful. Mind you, not due to my own efforts, but to the synergy of sixty women and men in search. In search of truth and of happiness — trying to make some sense of this chaotic world. People sharing sacred moments attempting to discover our unique mission statement, our indispensable contribution to life. Trying to find our center amidst the din of many loud circles.

One cannot create a perfect circle without a firm center. Traveling back to the circle from the center challenges us to join the two. We are the spokes that must integrate a center into the complex circles we draw in our lives. The paradox today is this: The center of Jerusalem is invisible until we create our circle. The center is not our creation, but the circle is. In the West we must create our "Jerusalem." In Israel we cannot. So though we have a blind center from which to draw, it is only after we create the circle that the center comes alive and real. A circle cannot be complete without a center, but a center manifests no physical space without a circle. Strangely, our circle defined by the hub of Jerusalem, helps us all find our way back to the center.

And that is our calling today: to refine and transform our "East Hamptons" into the "Promised Land." By doing so, we contribute to fueling the spiritual center of our lives, that is ultimately the only lasting way to bring peace and harmony between all peoples, Jew and Jew, Arab and Jew — the absolute recognition that our circles are all driven by the One Center, you know who.

Transitions are never easy. Especially when coming from heaven to earth.