During my first trip to Israel, back in 1992, I found myself in the center of the Old City of Jerusalem, during some sort of celebration. There was such jubilation! People dancing, cheering, soldiers swirling in circles with other soldiers sitting atop their shoulders! I was naïve then, and uneducated. I had no idea what was happening. I asked one of those elated soldiers why everyone was so happy, and what all the celebrations were about. He explained to me that the day was Yom Yerushalayim, and it was 25 years since the reunification of the Jewish people to our capital. It was with this backdrop that I started a long quest to discover my roots, to know my history, to never again have to ask the significance of such an event which clearly was so important to my people.
Twenty-nine years later and I’m seeing rockets pour down throughout Israel, including our beloved Jerusalem. I am seeing festivities halted and people praying for this violence to end. Last night, I watched a video of young observant boys singing and marching through a neighborhood in Jerusalem. While they were calmly displaying their love for this special day, a Jewish woman emerged from her home yelling at them, asking them to stop, to not provoke the Arabs. If we as a people cannot peacefully walk in our unified capital to proclaim our appreciation, attachment, and adoration for Jerusalem then why are we there? These boys were not rioting, nor were they inducing any sort of violence. I felt pride seeing them walk strongly and proudly through the streets waving the Israeli flag.
To be clear – the escalating violence was happening before these boys were out and about and, as we see, the violence is clearly happening there after. But the scenario raises a larger question. When will we, as Jews, come together for a single united cause? A cause which is steeped in our long three thousand plus year history? It is said that among all the observances Jews keep, the one in which even very secular Jews engage, is the Passover seder. At the end of each seder, we proclaim, “Next year in Jerusalem!” And we have been doing so for millennia. Well, we are in Jerusalem! We have fought our way back home. We have earned our right to be back where we belong. It is because of the courage and bravery of those who lived before us that we can peruse the shops on Jaffa Street, enjoy the smells of sweet challah at Machane Yehuda before Shabbat, and meet friends for coffee on Ben Yehuda. We can freely walk through Jaffa Gate, to pray in the rebuilt Hurva Synagogue (which had previously been destroyed by the Jordanians) and to dance at the Western Wall for Kabbalat Shabbat. There should be no division among us when it comes to the issue of our united capital and the showing of our devotion for it! And yet, there it was, to view in plain sight. If we cannot, as a people, come together in an unwavering show of strength, love and support for Jerusalem, how can we possibly expect the rest of the world to be by our side and understand our connection to our Homeland?
It is long past due for some serious national introspection of Clal Yisrael – for those living inside and those living outside of Israel. We must decide once and for all that the time has come to collectively stand proud for who we are and for what is right and what is just. We can have our disagreements. Our tradition is built on healthy, critical discourse. However, when it comes to the eternal capital of our people, the City of Gold which is mentioned hundreds of times in our liturgy, there should be no debate. Jerusalem, our eternal capital, is there for us…..the question is, are we there, united, for her?