The confluence of certain Jewish and Christian holidays is not so rare that it qualifies for a minor religious miracle. Occasionally, Hanukkah and Christmas more or less overlap, as do Passover and certain aspects of Easter; that's the advantage of holidays (like Passover and Hanukkah) that last eight days. With such a spread, and with a Jewish calendar that's part solar and part lunar and moves holidays through the year like pieces on a chess board, it's inevitable that some holidays will occasionally bump up against each other.
That will happen Friday. On this day, roughly two millennia ago, Jesus was crucified — freed from the agony and the sacrifice of his earthly journey. And tonight begins Passover — the freeing of the Israelites' from bondage in Egypt. Two freedoms, both redemptive and both paths to new lives: salvation for those who accept Jesus and emancipation for those who left slavery.
Both journeys converge on Jerusalem: The cross was in Jerusalem, Jesus' last supper (perhaps an early version of a Passover Seder) was in Jerusalem, the city he entered riding on an ass the previous week (on Palm Sunday) was Jerusalem. And after wandering in the desert for 40 years, the Israelites reclaimed their homeland, eventually establishing their capital in the city they named Yerushalayim.
Muslims have another name for Jerusalem: al-Quds, or "The Holy One." Holy because this is the first "Qibla," the initial direction toward which Muhammad and the early Muslim community turned their faces in prayer. Holy because a winged horse flew Muhammad here one night where he led Abraham, Moses and Jesus in prayer. Holy because Muhammad then ascended to heaven from what we now know as the Dome of the Rock.
A city holy to three peoples, all joined at the theological hip, all quarreling and disputing — siblings endlessly refusing to get along. Every Seder around the world tonight will culminate with L'shanah habaah b'yerushalarim! — "Next Year in Jerusalem!" But who will be in this city next year: Jews? Christians? Muslims? Who will lay claim to it as a birthright, as a soul right? Who will bask in the salvation and the freedom and the innumerable layers of divine dust and historic restitution of beloved, beleaguered Jerusalem? And who will find the salvation that Jesus offered, the freedom that Moses delivered, the spiritual ascension of Mohammed?
Sadly, in our torn and fractured world, satisfying and equitable answers to these wrenching questions may require a major religious miracle, something that will staunch the fanatics and the racists from all sides, open hearts as Jesus urged, refashion the notion of chosen-ness so it is illuminatingly universal and blessedly ecumenical, and animate the Quran's injunction "to know each other, not despise each other."
Only then will the cries of despair from the East and the West Banks, from Gaza and from Israel cease and the heavens shine in all their glory.
Arthur J. Magida is a writer in residence at the University of Baltimore's Klein Family School of Communications Design. His latest book is "The Nazi Séance: The Strange Story of the Jewish Psychic in Hitler's Circle." His email is AMagida@ubalt.edu.