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Jerusalem Day: Reroute the parade, reframe the day

Religious Zionist leaders must reverse the perception of Jerusalem Day as a platform for extremism and racism

I’ve changed my mind, though the High Court has not. For years I’ve been uneasy about the Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day)¬†Flag Parade taking place in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem due to the provocative actions of some marchers, but this year I have become unequivocal.

The catalyst for this was my Facebook feed. Prior to Yom Ha’atzmaut, social media is filled with expressions of pride and joy at Israel’s achievements, hope for the future and a religious appreciation of the miracle of the State of Israel. By contrast, the first article I saw for Yom Yerushalayim spoke of racism, incitement and “chilul Hashem” (sacrilege).

Perceptions are reality. For many, Yom Yerushalayim is seen as a celebration by right-wing religious youth, who use the Flag Parade as an opportunity to let out their anger at Arab residents of East Jerusalem through verbal abuse and racist chanting and show support for their religious and political viewpoints. The fact that this picture does not reflect the majority of the parade, and that so many (including myself) are hugely inspired by a sea of young people dancing peacefully in the streets of Jerusalem, is incidental. The damage has been done.

It’s also not a new phenomenon. But this year there are stronger efforts to protest the parade, and the nature of social media has catapulted the issue further into the public domain. When one considers the increase in terror and hate-related crimes centering on the Jerusalem area over the past twelve months, it becomes clearer why the stakes are higher this year.

And for that reason, it is time for the religious Zionist leadership to show leadership and move the parade so that it does not go through Arab areas. We are rightly horrified when we hear chants of ‘Death to the Jews’ at anti-Israel rallies throughout the world, and it is time to be equally horrified when young Jewish people do the equivalent. We are better than this. To those who argue that Jews have the right to hold a celebratory march through any part of our capital city, I agree wholeheartedly – on condition that the march is peaceful in nature and respectful to those not marching. Sadly, this is not the reality.

There are two issues at stake here. The first is restructuring the parade so that it allows Jewish youth to show pride and celebration at the miraculous reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, whilst at the same time not causing discomfort and abuse to Arab residents. There is no question that solving this will take a huge amount of leadership and courage, and it will not be easy – but I believe there is a yet greater challenge.

The reunification of Jerusalem and the restoration of the holiest of Jewish sites under Israeli control constitutes one of the most joyous moments in the history of the Jewish people. This is in itself miraculous, yet the fact that Jews were unable to visit these sites prior to the war only enhances the feeling of religious liberation. Furthermore, the sheer magnitude of the military victory in the Six Day War is almost impossible to grasp unless one understands the widespread fear that Israel would not survive. Yom Yerushalayim is in one sense a parallel salvation to Yom Ha’atzmaut, and in another a far greater miracle.

This is the narrative that should fill my Facebook feed. The messages of the day are of recognising God’s hand in history, appreciating the significance of our holy sites and wondering at how our millenia-old yearning for Jerusalem has materialised before our very eyes. The eternal message of Jerusalem that rings throughout the Bible is one of peace, social justice and how the Torah will emanate from it to the entire world.

That’s why it’s not enough to merely change the route of the Flag Parade. We need to send the message to the country at large that Yom Yerushalayim is not a festival for the religious, or for the right-wing. We need all schools in the country to send their students to the Flag Parade and demonstrate that the messages above, filled as they are with Jewish and Israeli pride, do not necessitate extremist political, or racist, agendas. And above all, we need Yom Yerushalayim to serve as the symbol of a new Religious Zionism, which is open, tolerant and respectful to all, resolute and uncompromising in its ideology and able to build bridges with the rest of Israeli society, so that the State of Israel will finally fulfill the prophecy of “From Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem”.

About the Author
Michael Rainsbury is an Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz Hatzvi, a modern Orthodox Anglo yeshiva in Jerusalem. Originally from London, he made Aliyah in 2013. Michael has held many roles in Bnei Akiva, serving as Educational Director and National Director in the UK and running the movement's gap year programmes in Israel. A teacher by profession, Michael has a Masters in Jewish Education and also runs Poland trips for JRoots, a leading provider of Jewish educational heritage tours. All articles are written in a personal capacity.
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