We are approaching the day known in the Israeli calendar as “Jerusalem Day,” which will take place this year on May 13th. This day commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem after the 1967 Six Days War, more than fifty years ago.
This year, the observance will be even more multi-layered than usual, since it comes during a week of two very controversial events. On Monday, May 14th, the Americans will inaugurate their embassy in my neighborhood in Jerusalem, a one-sided move to put another nail in the coffin of “the Peace Process” which both the American and Israeli governments have abandoned to the delight of the rejectionist extremists on both sides of the conflict. And the following day, May 15th, will be “Nakba” day, the commemoration of the “catastrophe”, the losing of the war of 1948 by the Arab countries in the region and the Palestinians, which led to 700,000 refugees and the destruction of over 400 Palestinian villages within Israel.
It is going to be quite a three-day party! However, only one side will really celebrate, and only really the right-wing in Israel gets worked up about Jerusalem Day via an ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious march in downtown Jerusalem and through the Palestinian neighborhoods of the Old City of Jerusalem, replete with name-calling and flag-waving.
Fortunately, in recent years, there have been some voices of sanity that have created a new tradition of alternative Jerusalem Day commemorations that offer some hope for the present and the future for both peoples in this shared city. These events, which are growing from year to year, are sponsored by a variety of NGOs and coalitions that believe that this city is one that belongs to Palestinians (now 39 % of the population) as well as to Jews. They spread a message of peaceful coexistence and offer a spirit of cooperation and hope for all people in this city, which is holy to millions of Jews, Muslims and Christians.
One of these events is called Ma’aminim (believers). It is an inter-religious and intercultural evening of prayer, reflection, singing, and introspection, led by Rabbi Tamar Elad Applebaum, spiritual leader of Kehillat Zion in Jerusalem, and her friends and colleagues from all over Jerusalem, including Muslims and Christians along with a diversity of Jews. According to Rabbi Tamar,
This program is important since it gives us an opportunity to see with our own eyes that prayer can unite all of us in this holy city. We all care about each other—Jews, Christians and Muslims—and this is one way to show this.
This is the 5th year of this inspirational event, which attracts hundreds of Jerusalemites from all walks of life to participate in this unique multicultural celebration of Jerusalem. This year’s event, which will take place at 19:30 at the First Station in the heart of Jerusalem, as in past years, is co-sponsored by the Tahrir Movement, Ginot Hair Community Center, the Secular Yeshiva, This is Jerusalem, Yom Yerushalmi: Jerusalem Day of Diversity and Tachana Rishona –– The First Station.
Another institution that is sponsoring activities this week and next week is “Jerusalem Tolerance” which is producing and coordinating many activities on Jerusalem Day under the theme “A Jerusalem Day of Diversity — Jerusalemites Create Jerusalem Day”. This organization — which is supported by the Jerusalem Intercultural Center, the Jerusalem Tolerance Coalition, the New York UJA-Federation and the Jerusalem Foundation — offers to the public in Jerusalem a myriad of activities for marking Jerusalem Day in creative and constructive ways, from study tours to personal encounters to public programs and more.
In addition to all this, my son-in-law Amit Poni Kronish is currently engaged in a crowd-funding campaign for his new book (to be published this summer by Steimatzky in Hebrew) on “The Other Jerusalem”, a subject about which he has been blogging for many years. This book will present an optimistic outlook on Jerusalem, in great contrast to the Cassandra-like news coverage of all the existential dilemmas confronting Jerusalem, every day, almost every minute. He is part of a younger generation of positive activists who are helping to create a better future for all people who live in Jerusalem. (Hebrew readers can order the book and support his crowdfunding campaign via this Headstart link.
Along with my son-in-law and many other people, I am cautiously optimistic about the future of Jerusalem. It is a city in which an incredible amount of constructive coexistence goes on every day in many fields– hospitals and health care centers, hotels, education, universities, interreligious dialogue institutions, human rights organizations, peace education organizations and many workplaces –which is usually unreported in the mainstream press.
I see the cup as more than half full. This is a very special multicultural city, with tremendous potential for all of its citizens, those who view it as “holy” and those who simply view it as “special.” In addition, it is a city with great spiritual and historical meaning for Jews, Christians and Muslims in Israel and throughout the world. For “people of the book”, the statement of Isaiah from thousands of years ago rings true to this very day:
For out of Zion, shall go forth Torah (teaching) and the word of God from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2-3).
For me, Jerusalem is the spiritual center of the Jewish people, as well as a religious center for members of other major monotheistic religions. Moreover, Jerusalem has the very special potential for being and becoming spiritual place for all peoples, as envisioned by Isaiah (56:7)
For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.