If I forget thee, O Jerusalem

Last week there were two Israeli holidays, Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day and the day before, Yom HaZikaron, Israeli Memorial Day. In a few weeks, Israelis and Jews around the world will be celebrating Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the day during the 1967 Six-Day War when Israel took control of, and so, reunified Jerusalem.

There have been thousands of Israelis lost in war alone during Israel’s 68 years, and remembering those who took up arms to help create the Jewish state and defend her to this day is taken quite seriously by the country, as it should be.

There would be no Israeli independence without those who gave their lives so that a people should live. The whole Jewish people. And I say that because I firmly believe a strong Israel is a defense for all Jews everywhere, even those who do not care about Israel or who do not care enough. A strong Israel does not just protect its own citizens by its existence, it protects so many more. Non-Jews as well.

So it was with a degree of disappointment and profound sadness when in a conversation with a Jewish liberal friend on Yom HaZikaron, he said that Jerusalem should be put under some type of international auspices, and not just before any final decision about the city, but as a result of negotiations.

My friend is compassionate for sure, an uncommonly decent and fine person, and he is better-educated than most when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict. He is not one who cares only about social issues and pretty much staying out of any conflict anywhere like many on the left. Yes, he dislikes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but not as a knee-jerk reaction as others who simply disagree because the PM is on the right of the spectrum. My friend is thoughtful and informed.

That is what hurts.

Being compassionate as Jews is in our DNA. It is biblical and so much more. There are numerous laws in the Torah about how we are to treat the less fortunate among us. We are commanded to remember that we were strangers when we were slaves in Egypt, exploited, persecuted and destitute. We were less than human. After leaving the oppressors, after independence, the rules were made clear. Take care of the sick, the poor, the widow, the stranger; give dignity to those who have suffered.

We Jews do very well in that department, the department of compassion. We become doctors and we create hospitals and we become philanthropists. It was biblically ordained and it is what we do.

What was also biblically ordained, what also made us a people, what we were taught even before the laws of compassion was that we were promised a land of our own centered by a city of our own that was to be our very soul. This seems to have been forgotten or ignored. It is OK to practice our identity as long as it does not make anyone uncomfortable.

The promise and laws of Israel and Jerusalem given at the same time as those pertaining to compassion, well, they don’t seem to count, because there are those bothered by that.

Israel and Jerusalem were given to the Jewish nation just like we were given life direction.

There are those who tout the Bible as an ethics blueprint but who conveniently exclude or dismiss that which pertains to Israel. And there are those who want nothing to do with religion altogether, but who are quick to tout their religion when making an argument.

It is hard to debate these people because there will be no convincing them. They make up our “I am Jewish, but…” constituency. They only like the underdogs, not recognizing that sometimes the underdog can be wrong, very wrong. Worse, they join organizations that seek to ostracize and promote boycotts against the country whose very existence guarantees their right as a Jew to never again become part of a genocide.

We have lost a good number of our people. I learned long ago there are those who think only with their hearts and not with their heads. But as with many matters of conscience, there must be a balance. With them there is no balance. Heart only.

The more thoughtful of our own who tilt to the left should understand that Jerusalem could never be put under some kind of international control. After all, have we as a people learned nothing from our history that depending on any international entity to take care of our needs and desires never works? The city would become divided and its most important area would be lost. Again.

Has the United Nations or the world improved in how it acts toward Israel or the Jewish people? Many say that world governments are against how Israel runs its affairs and not against Jews. If so, why the rampant Jew-hatred and blatant antisemitism we see and hear day after day in country after country. Hatred toward Jews as Jews. Aren’t we well past Hitler?

The truth is, if Israel did not exist, we would hear and feel the same vile contempt for a people and faith, a malice that is commonplace and accepted and convenient. If it is not in your face, it is subtle. But it is there. And I do not trust the international community to steward my city. It has failed again and again and it continues to fail me and my people. I do not trust the liars and hypocrites, those who would stand by, if not outright assist in my destruction, because they have done so. I do not trust them with my most precious possession. Our most precious possession.

You want Jerusalem to become an international city? Guess what? It already is. Because of Israel. It is free and cosmopolitan. And unlike its pre-1967 past, anyone can worship freely there anywhere, except for the Jews of course, forbidden to worship on their holiest place on earth, because we must bend over backward to make others happy or risk further riot and murder. But the city is vibrant and welcoming. Will it be so, under control of those who would certainly side with those who hate us? Jerusalem is your city too, so why give it away?

My friend also said he does not like right-wing Jews in the US because he feels they choose Israel over their own government. The old loyalty argument. In a democracy, we can disagree and have opinions, but it doesn’t mean we abandon our country. When George W. Bush was deemed too pro-Israel by many on the left, were those who disagreed with the Republican president disloyal to the US? Of course not. But to some, a double standard is the proper view as long as it is their standard.

And what about the children of those who should, in my opinion, know better? So many Jewish youth have no feeling toward Israel as it is, and it is a tragedy. They either don’t care or they support and agree with an, “I am Jewish, but…” major candidate for president, or worse, much worse, they passionately do their best to hurt the Jewish state. “Look at me! I’m a Jew and I am fighting Israel!” Lovely.

Parents teach their children by word and deed, and it makes it harder to convince the young minds that their parents are just plain wrong.

After my friend made the comment about Jerusalem, I got quiet. There was a long pause. Unusual for me and he knew it, and he knew I was bothered by his words. “Did I shock you or disappoint you?” he asked. “Have you ever been to Israel?” I asked. I could feel his defensiveness as he replied, “Why does that matter?” He had not.

I told him why it would help if he would just visit, not only to witness security concerns but because of how he would feel, this proud Jew, to be standing within the city of his people. We left the conversation there.

King David wrote (Psalms 137:5), “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its strength.” I sincerely hope that as we, a compassionate people, continue to stretch out our hands to feed the hungry, to heal the sick, to clothe the poor, and to lift up those who suffer, we keep the strength in one of those hands, the strength that comes from remembering something else that makes us Jews, Israel and its undivided and eternal capital, Jerusalem.

About the Author
Shia Altman who hails from Baltimore, MD, now lives in Los Angeles. His Jewish studies, aerospace, and business and marketing background includes a BA from the University of Maryland and an MBA from the University of Baltimore. When not dabbling in Internet Marketing, Shia tutors Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and Judaic and Biblical Studies to both young and old.
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