As we all think about the relaxation of mandatory pandemic restrictions and how that might affect
us, I noticed that outdoor concerts are starting to resume within the State of Israel at Sultan’s Pool,
an ancient water basin in the Valley of Hinnom by the west side of Mount Zion in Jerusalem. On June 3, Rami
Fortis, a pioneer of Israeli punk rock, and Berry Sakharov, “the prince of Israel rock,” along with their combined
group, Fortisakharof, will be the first concert there. For Israeli modern music enthusiasts, this will be a great
The site in modern times has served as a concert venue. In fact, for the 30th anniversary celebration of Israel’s
Independence (1978), the highlight, for many, was Zubin Mehta conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Isaac
Stern, Daniel Barenboim, Jean–Pierre Rampal, Leontyne Price, Itzhak Perlman, among others at this very spot. It is remembered as one of the greatest assemblages of classical musicians and singers ever.
Impressive as such concerts are is the place where they are held: the Hinnom Valley just outside the walls of the
Old City of Jerusalem. The valley is a small ravine where, the Bible tells us and which archaeology has confirmed,
idolaters used to burn their children as offerings to their god Moloch. Because of this horrendous association, the
Hinnom Valley, or Gehinnom in Hebrew, became in later rabbinic thought the hell where sinners are punished and
purged of their misdeeds while on earth.
I find the idea of staging musical concerts in this setting enormously suggestive. To me it states that it is possible
to go into a place of deep grief, into hell, and convert it from one of blaze into one of beauty. Surely grief can be a terrible inferno, and this time of the pandemic has in some ways been a time of grief for what we no longer had. Nonetheless, despite its forbidding countenance, sorrow, and loss, it possesses great potential power to expand our lives, to enlarge our vision, and to deepen our understanding. Through the portals of sorrow and loss of these past 15 months, we have entered into the suffering of others. Our human compassion was kindled. Our sympathies were awakened. Grief also helped purge us of pettiness and selfishness. It elicited from us powers of fortitude and patience.
The abundance of elegiac poetry and music in world culture points up another benevolent service that
suffering and loss frequently renders. Where we do not permit it to embitter us or crush us, it often arouses
latent powers of creativity by which the human spirit transmutes suffering into soul, adversity into artistry,
pain into poetry. It is quite possible to emulate those of whom the psalmist wrote, “They pass through a valley of tears and convert it into a life–giving fountain” (Psalm 84:7)
Finally, in Israel one can find a rare cactus plant on which there grows an exquisitely lovely flower. The flower is called “Queen of the Night” because it has the strange characteristic of blooming only in the darkest part of the night. When the blackness is deepest, the Queen of the Night comes bursting out. We have been and can be like that flower and, through the dark night of sorrow, shine forth robed in our full human splendor, bedecked in our G!d–given glory.
In the valley of Hinnom, we, too, can play the most beautiful music.