Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Another Jerusalem Day

Today was Jerusalem Day, 43 years since the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem. 43 years since Jewish people were once again able to return to our most holy sites from which we had been banned for decades prior. 43 years since we were able to visit the city that King David built. 43 years since we were able to return to the stones of the Western Wall, the foundation of our ancient Temple, to pray and weep there for health, for bounty and for the ability once again to ascend to worship on the Temple Mount itself. Aware of the auspicious occasion, I made notes to look for and add meaning to the significance of the day. I expected that with recent political and diplomatic incidents and proclamations about Jerusalem that this year there would be a heightened celebration, a more fervent display of the emotion. It struck me that not since the very war in 1948-1949 in which Jerusalem was divided and Jews were barred from the eastern part of the city, including Jerusalem’s historic Old City, has Israel’s hegemony and the Jewish nature of Jerusalem been so challenged. Prior to that, Jerusalem’s Jewish roots, and the rights of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, were not challenged as much since the year 70 when the Roman sacked and destroyed Jerusalem. Although the Jewish people did not gain control of the entire city for nearly 2000 years, there has always been a Jewish presence in, and unbreakable connection to Jerusalem. Today’s challenges to the Jewish character and centrality of Jerusalem need to be met with a clear and unhesitant affirmation of Jerusalem as the heart of the Jewish people. We have grown to expect these challenges from Arab and other Moslem sources of intolerance, and they have grown more bold and brazen with millions actually believing the lie that there is no Jewish historical or religious connection to Jerusalem. Adding to this, when President Obama addressed the Moslem world in Cairo a year ago, his thesis was that Israel indeed has a right to exist, but he based that on the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust, not based on our historical and religious ties to Jerusalem going back more than three millennia. Always eloquent and to the point, Elie Wiesel addressed these challenges to the Jewish nature of Jerusalem head on in a recent ad that has drawn much attention. “.... Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than six hundred times in Scripture—and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, it IS Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and its joy are part of our collective memory. Since King David took Jerusalem as his capital, Jews have dwelled inside its walls with only two interruptions; when Roman invaders forbade them access to the city and again, when under Jordanian occupation, Jews, regardless of nationality, were refused entry into the old Jewish quarter to meditate and pray at the Wall, the last vestige of Solomon’s temple. It is important to remember: had Jordan not joined Egypt and Syria in the war against Israel, the old city of Jerusalem would still be Arab. Clearly, while Jews were ready to die for Jerusalem they would not kill for Jerusalem. Today, for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And, contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory….” Jews have prayed toward Jerusalem for 2000 years, to the Old City, to the Temple Mount, to the Holy of Holies. If our right to Israel and Jerusalem is only predicated on six million being murdered, perhaps the same detractors believe that we have been praying only toward the modern western part of the city. "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy." (Psalms 137, 5-7). We have uttered “If I forget thee…” for millennia, but what are we worried about forgetting? Our detractors who say that we have no claim to Jerusalem to begin with might suggest that we have worried about “forgetting” the Knesset, Ben Yehuda St., or even the maligned and controversial Holyland development. As Elie Wiesel concluded, “Jerusalem is the heart of our heart, the soul of our soul.” There is simply nothing more incontrovertible. So I made it a point to spend the day in Jerusalem today albeit with meetings. Work prevented me from participating in any number of ceremonies, tours and celebrations, but that did not prevent me from witnessing, with great enthusiasm and pride, the celebrations of others, and to get stuck in traffic jams, admittedly with glee, watching hoards of modern pilgrims all marching in the direction of the Old City. My family participated in a tour of the newly renovated Hurva Synagogue, whose history itself goes back more than 300 years., but I was unable to attend. When I got home, I asked what it was like. I spoke with my 4 year old son who has been speaking excitedly about visiting the Old City for weeks. “What did you do today?” I asked. “I ate pizza in Jerusalem,” he replied. I pried further. “What else did you do in Jerusalem?” “I ate ice cream,” he beamed, dimples in full force. Eventually, we determined that he went to Jerusalem and was in the Old City and saw an important synagogue. What did he take from the day? Perhaps nothing. But then I realized that all the prepared notes and all the political rhetoric about defending our right to Jerusalem was not the most significant thing today. What was most significant is that going to Jerusalem, entering the Old City, feasting on pizza and ice cream, was as ordinary for my son as anything else. Our challenge is to raise him with the appreciation for what we have now that we did not have in Jerusalem for nearly 2000 years. To make sure that as common as these things are, that he does not take them for granted. But then again, he is the only one of my children born in Jerusalem, something that happened entirely by nature, whereas for centuries Jews yearned just to glimpse our holy city, millions dying without their dream fulfilled. And my son, on the other hand, is a native Jerusalemite, both fulfilling the dreams of millions before him, and as link to the future, making sure that our right to Jerusalem is never denied us again. That’s definitely cause for celebration. Maybe pizza and ice cream will become our tradition.