The locus of love and heartache and war and winning and wandering Jews and wailing walls of emotion, it is also now the focus of a motion picture that scales its history, flat notes and sharp attacks, and puts it on a 20-foot screen, all still too small to take the Mideast measure that is this Jewish people's giant.
"O Jerusalem," based on the best seller of the same name celebrating its double-chai publishing date with this release, opens on Wednesday, Oct. 24, exclusively at the Ritz Five in Old City and Showcase at the Ritz Center in Voorhees, N.J.
Exclusivity is at the core of understanding the jagged edges of Jerusalem, which has been claimed for its own by groups who would go mano a mano with others not sharing their monotheistic monogram on the city.
The city's history of hysteria and histrionic battles belies its beauty, washed in light personally fingerprinted by the hand of God and framed in a gold casing that many have tried, but ultimately failed, to tarnish.
As a tug of war of tolerance, the movie pits two longtime friends at each other's throat as their race card deals them jokers in the land of kings. One is Jewish, the other Arab, Semites under the skin, servants to their outside pasts, where long years of yearning and being yoked to their own people's interests has made them entombed victims of an internecine war.
It is a Holy Land filled with the holes of war and weaponry and misguided misanthropy that plays out like a plague on both their houses.
But ultimately, Jerusalem, as depicted onscreen, screams of joy and Jewish pride, as the state of the Jewish state's union — buffeted and battered — remains inviolable to the vicissitudes that veer it down history's splintered path.
Tovah Feldshuh has a prime role in the film, easing into the outfit of Prime Minister Golda Meir as if wearing the fabric of her society on her very back.
It is a comfortable fit for the award-winning actress who has stood on "Golda's Balcony" on Broadway, weighing in with her wit and wonder at how a world can hate and yet somehow harness hope.
Her Golda is the essence of this City of Gold as portrayed by the filmmakers — director/ screenwriter Elie Chouraqui and screenwriter Didier Lepecheur — who take no middle ground in this Middle East story grounded in a history of gunfire and fiery oratory.
Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, the book's authors, also penned Is Paris Burning? Here, they have met their match in a ring of fire aflame with affairs of state and the heart.
Feldshuh herself has a heart of gold when it comes to Israel, which has honored her in the past for her philanthropy and fellowship.
The ever-popular Broadway star ("Yentl") and movie scene-stealer ("Kissing Jessica Stein") has received the life sentence of applause and acclaim, but then she can defend herself against anything. She has been one of the more popular oracular defense attorneys in "Law & Order"; and a cabaret chanteuse with a New York cabbie's capful of intriguing insights, albeit with a much better voice and better ability to avoid potholes ahead. And Feldshuh is real in talking about Israel.
After all, with a name like Golda, you've got to prove your mettle. And it is the metal of another kind — to coin a phrase — that may ultimately mean peace in the Mideast.
"My only hope for peace is what has happened in Ireland," she relates of peace bringing on prosperity. "The second you have peace, you begin to have money," in addition to a future where banks and not West Banks figure more peacefully.
But it was an act of violence that may have undermined the mindset of it all.
"The real hope was with Rabin," she says of the slain prime minister, whose assassination put aside true belief in peace for many.
Is "O Jerusalem" an ode to the joy or the jagged edge of Israel's history? Whatever the perspective, the filmmaker has made it larger than life, which, ironically, Jerusalem is, in real life.
"Elie has made a picture that looks like a huge epic on a shoestring," attests Feldshuh.
Those are large shoes of showmanship to fill; the city is a stage of lights and landscapes, costumed in Jewry and Arabs dripping in the richness of history.
Pieces of the Picture
If there is one woman to play the many-minded marvel that was Meir, it is the actress also heralded as a happily married New York mover and shaker — all pieces of the picture: "I am still a liberal Democrat from New York, who believes in peace and the perpetuation of our people."
She has done her share. At home awaiting her are "Nunnie" and "Boogie" — known to others as Amanda and Brandon — her kids with longtime husband Andrew Levy.
But soon, they may be having some visitors. Reflecting the savvy of a Sarah Lawrence College alum, Feldshuh is dropping the other shoe: Yes, she is about to take on a major concert tour of "Golda's Balcony." But she's left room by the banister for others to banter with, too.
She is combining the haimisch with the outrageous as the car-pooling mom plays carpenter, hammering together a repertoire of one-woman shows featuring many-sided women of an independent mind and spirit.
The many faces of Tovah? The many talents of Tovah!
"I'm working on Tallulah Bankhead, Katherine Hepburn and Golda — three incredibly divergent American women," she says of the singer she's played on stage, the actress she's assayed in film and the Milwaukee brewer of Zionism whose balcony she's borrowed.
"Now," says the star of "Tovah: Out of Her Head" in her right mind to do all this, "wouldn't that be crazy?"