Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PBS digs into world's most contentious real estate

By Daniel Burke
Religion News Service

Pick up a newspaper on any given day and you're likely to encounter a story about Jerusalem. Usually, it's about fights between or among Jews, Muslims and Christians.

But the deep history of the world's most contested piece of real estate is often only hinted at, and filmmaker Andrew Goldberg wants to tell the whole story.

"Jerusalem is a place that's supposed to be respected and loved and celebrated, and yet it's a boiling pot of anger and rage," Goldberg said in an interview. "I thought maybe for a minute we could talk about the celebration of a place that is usually only discussed in terms of conflict and death."

Goldberg's new documentary, "Jerusalem: Center of the World," explores the centuries of conflict and veneration inspired by the holy city -- from Abraham's near sacrifice of his son
on Mount Moriah to contemporary Christians jockeying for pride of place in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Narrated and co-written by Ray Suarez, of "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," the two-hour documentary will be broadcast locally on PBS affiliate KUED Channel 7 April 1 at 8 p.m.

Two years in the making, Goldberg's documentary takes viewers inside places seldom seen by the millions of pilgrims who have descended on the Holy Land, with narration from key texts from the Torah, Bible and Quran.

There's the golden grandeur of the Dome of the Rock, one of Islam's holiest sites, which is usually off-limits to non-Muslims. Nearby sits the cramped Church of the Holy Sepulchre and its Muslim doorkeepers, whose families have kept the keys to the church for more than 800 years.

As the film relates, Jerusalem is revered by Jews as the City of David, where the First and Second Temples were built and the Ark of the Covenant was housed. For Christians, the city is the site of key moments in the life of Jesus, including the Passion. Muslims consider Jerusalem the world's third holiest city, after Mecca and Medina, and the last place on earth touched by Prophet Muhammad.

Jerusalem was selected by God as "the place that will provide a lesson, a message, a meaning, for humanity," said Rabbi Elie Weinstock, of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun of New York, in the film. As Goldberg puts it, "when God talked to people, he did it here."

When Abraham set out for Moriah centuries ago, Jerusalem was an insignificant backwater, according to the documentary.

Now, there is hardly a space that a prophet has not walked upon, the film relates. In a number of places, holy sites sit atop one another. Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven on the same rocky outcrop where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac in obedience to God. The same building houses both the tomb of King David and the Cenacle, where Jesus and the disciples held the Last Supper.

Goldberg said he wanted to make those geographic connections evident to the millions of Jews, Muslims and Christians who may never make it to the Holy Land.

"People tend to know about their own religious or ethnic group's relation with the city," Goldberg said, "but not about the other groups.'"