There is a city on a hilltop that requires all who want to go there to ascend, as if climbing to the Heavens. A city picked by Divine Will, which has been under attack 52 times, captured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and completely destroyed twice. A city that glows with the sunrise and sunset, as if to highlight its status as where the Divine meets the physical. A city which has been the beating heart of Jewish life for 3000 unbroken years, and the center of Jewish yearning for 2000. A city where Jews have turned to face for millennia, and where they have asked to be buried. A capital city of a people who for 2000 years, held no sovereignty in it. Most of all, it is a city that exemplifies the Jewish nation; redemption, rebirth, struggle, perseverance, and faith.
Jerusalem; city of peace, city of stories, and city of its people, the Jewish people. The city that has been the epicenter for both an ancient and a modern story of a scrappy nation that never forgot its Divine claim to the city on a hill. Where walking the streets means walking in the footsteps as the great sages and prophets of the Tanach, and the liberators of 1967. Where some atheist Israeli paratroopers were brought to tears at the liberation of the Kotel and the Temple Mount. Its Divine presence making even the most secular Jews realize that there is something more, something metaphysical in this city which seems to sit between the finite world and the infinite above. This is a city scarred with ancient battles and modern tensions paralleled nowhere else on earth.
Where else in the world can one walk from remnants of a two thousand year old Temple to the headquarters of some of the world’s biggest high-tech companies? Where else can one eat dates, one of the most ancient fruits in the world, in the same place their forefathers did 3000 years ago, while conversing in the same language they did? Where else can you celebrate a jubilee of reunification and liberation amongst stones that are thousands of years old? What city has inspired so much heartbreak among hundreds of generations of people whose only wish was to see it, touch its stones, and offer a prayer there? And where for 19 years, Jews huddled on rooftops and braved Jordanian snipers just to catch a fleeting glimpse of it.
A city that caused the greatest Rabbi’s to weep with its destruction, and to be overcome with joy at its reunification. A city of gold and of iron. A city of blood and milk and of honey. Where Jews “don’t go, but return.” A city whose aromatic smells have not changed since King David made the city the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel, forever to remain the capital even after the Romans ripped it away from its heirs. A city which has lived in the heart of every Jew since King David, even if they were not able to live there physically. A city whose destruction Jews recall at weddings, supposed to be the happiest of occasions. Where we have seen the words of Zechariah’s words come true: “Thus says the Lord of Hosts: The day will come when old men and old women will populate the streets of Jerusalem…And the streets of the city will fill with boys and girls at play” (Zechariah 8:4).
Walking through this city, with its twists and turns, and tight streets, you are joined by the millions of Jews who were never able to be here. Approaching the Kotel, you walk hand in hand with the Rabbis of old, and those murdered in the horrors of the Holocaust, as well as those who wept by the rivers of Babylon. As you recite the Shema at the Wall, you are joined by Rabbi Akiva who was killed with the Shema on his lips, until suddenly you’re not speaking it, he is speaking it through you. Only in this city, this city on a hilltop, are you never alone, but are part of the great epoch of the Jewish people who yearned, wept, prayed, fought, and died, for the right to be in this Divine city.