Wednesday, May 8th is a day to celebrate – for many different reasons. This day not only marks the end of World War II in Europe, but also leads up to ”Europe Day” one day later on May 9th. Whereas Victory Day put an end to the devastation of World War II, Robert Schuman’s declaration in Paris on May 9th, 1950, marked the beginning of the new Europe.
In Israel and in the Jewish world, another victory day is celebrated this year on May 8th in the Gregorian Calendar, namely the re-unification of Jerusalem in 1967. There is a clear connection between the end of World War II and the creation of the new Europe. However I would also argue that there is a link to Jerusalem. Not only is Europe said to be built on three hills – Athens, Rome and Jerusalem – but Western civilisation is also recognised for its Judeo-Christian heritage, thus cementing their common background and future interdependence.
However, the relationship between ”Christian Europe” and her ”older brother” has not always been an easy one. Centuries of persecution and pogroms seem to contradict the close and natural bond between Jews and Christians. But that bond is also there when confronted by the enemies of the Jewish people, as during the horrors of the Shoah. Victory Day was a victory over these very enemies.
The fact remains – there is no West without Israel. What today constitutes Europe would simply be referred to as ”Western Asia” if it were not for the contribution of the Jews. Many believe that the history of Europe begins when, in a vision, the Apostle Paul sees a Macedonian man asking him to come over and help. Apostle Paul responded and Europe has never been the same.
What the Jewish religious leader Paul brought was not just a new religion (a Jewish sect which would later become known as Christianity) but a new, revolutionary world view which would forever transform Europe for the better. The best-selling Roman Catholic author, Thomas Cahill, simply calls this ”the gift of the Jews.”
May 8th is a time for Europeans and others too to be grateful, not only for the end of World War II and the creation of a peaceful Europe, but also for the many great contributions which the Jewish people have made to European civilisation. It may have begun with the Apostle Paul, but it certainly did not end with him. There would be no Europe without the contributions of Spinoza, Freud or Einstein, to name but a few.
On this day, we should also be reminded of the sacred pledges which were made following the Second World War, never again to let down the Jewish people when facing an existential threat; never again to let their safety and security be dependent on the goodwill of their host countries, but rather to reaffirm the right to their own homeland – the modern state of Israel. As early as 1920, at the Paris Peace Conference adjourned to San Remo, this unbreakable connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel was recognised in international law by the Supreme Council of the Major Allied Powers in what was to be called ”the reconstitution of the Jewish state.”
And this leads us to Jerusalem Day. There can be no reconstitution of a Jewish state without historical Jerusalem, that is the Old City of Jerusalem. That would be like trying to define England without London. The comparison is weak however. As British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, pointed out in a debate in the House of Commons in the late 19th century when the Jewish claim to Israel was questioned:
When the ancestors of the right honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.
The reunification of Berlin is commonly regarded as the end of the Cold War and the final completion of the new Europe. In a similar way, the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 should be seen as the natural answer to the 2000 year old Jewish aspiration and prayer – ’next year in Jerusalem.’ Just as life is better for former East Germans in the reunited Berlin, so is life better for everyone in an open and shared Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.