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If I Forget Thee…

Naomi Shemer wrote her famous song “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” in 1967, on the eve of a war whose outcome she could not have known. The song, “Jerusalem of Gold” in English, lamented in its original iteration the abandonment of Jerusalem’s Old City and above all the deserted site of the Western Wall. Shemer revised her song a few months after it was written: Jerusalem had been reunited after Israel crushed the Arab armies that menaced it with destruction in the Six Day War. Once more, Jews could pray at the Western Wall and descend to Jericho and Hebron.

Since then, the State of Israel has celebrated Jerusalem Day, which this year falls on May 28-29, as a national holiday, a tribute to the country’s eternal and undivided capital. Fifty-five years have elapsed since Jerusalem’s unification and the process has born much fruit. Israel, which extended permanent residency to the former citizens of Jordan living in the eastern part of the capital, has labored mightily to create a unified municipality. This has included such endeavors as the Jerusalem light rail system, which runs from Shuafat to Mount Herzl. Israel defends the city’s multi-religious character, safeguarding the holy sites of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam with equal rigor. No one can claim to have been a more responsible steward of the city and its patrimony than the State of Israel. And, this has proceeded even as the state has fostered ambitious architectural enterprises, such as the digging in the City of David, which has borne out even further the ancient Israelite presence in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s relative peace, as a city where Muslim, Christian, and Jew, modern and ancient, secular and religious, all coexist, stands as a veritable miracle and a testament to the openness and flexibility of Israel, even as they suffered the disturbances of the past two decades, which have included an intifada, rocket fire from Gaza, violence on the Temple Mount, and ongoing security concerns.

American Jewry has had a long love affair with Jerusalem. Conference of Presidents member organizations continue that tradition today, sponsoring cultural, academic, religious, and other exchanges between the city and various groups in the United States. We have also clearly advocated that as Israel bravely advocates for peace, it should never be pressured to cede a part of the capital to a future Palestinian state. We have also been gratified to see states recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, notably the United States – through Congressional action and Presidential initiative. We are confident that Jerusalem’s crucial character as part of the state of Israel will continue to be recognized.

This week, as we mark a great milestone, 55 years since Jews turned to pray toward a free and unified Jerusalem, 55 years since a city whose loss was a source of mourning has become the pride of our people, we pledge to continue to cherish and celebrate our eternal capital — Jerusalem.

About the Author
William Daroff became the Chief Executive Officer of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on February 1, 2020. In that capacity, he is the senior professional guiding the Conference’s agenda on behalf of the 53 national member organizations, which represent the wide mosaic of American Jewish life. Follow him at @Daroff
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