Yom Yerushalayim has special meaning for me. And I think this meaning is shared by many.
While Yom Haatsmaut celebrates the Jewish people and our land, Yom Yerushalayim is our soul, our inner life, the tempest within. The two are like the body and the soul.
And while Yom Haatsmaut receives its due celebration and recognition, Yom Yerushalayim receives less recognition.
The State of Israel, celebrated on Yom Haatsmaut is at the centre of Jewish life for Modern Orthodox Jews in the Diaspora, as I believe it is for many Jews of all denominations. The Rabbinical Council of America, the largest organization of orthodox rabbis, is constantly looking for ways to support Israel and to strengthen our connection to Israel. I was appointed as RCA representative in Israel a few years ago to express that connection. The RCA has been pushing an initiative called Buy Israel. Nefesh b’Nefesh will attend our upcoming convention. Israeli rabbis are invited to address our Convention every year and to provide learning at other opportunities. The RCA has recently entered an agreement with Koren Publishing, the leading and proudly Zionist publisher of prayer books and other works.
All of this and more is an expression of pride and connection with Israel. We are not unique in this connection but we are proud of it and will continue to strengthen it.
But the connection to Jerusalem, not just to Israel, is different.
In my first trip to Israel as a teenager, in the old backpack in Israel days, walking the streets of Jerusalem was the search for spirituality. As a Canadian, the exotic nature of the country was enthralling – the sights and smells of this middle eastern world. It was an expansive experience, so different. But besides the growth that new experience brings, there was something more.
Jerusalem was our India. You know how people search for the transcendent moment, the slip into a higher realm, a pure and holy experience. Well, Jerusalem held that mystique. Jerusalem held the promise of higher meaning, a higher experience, a holy experience of transcendence.
But even more, Jerusalem held out the promise of depth, of wisdom and of the meaning of life. Israel was our land, the land of the Jews, a land forged by the will of great people who had great vision and perseverance. In Israel we feel at home. Traveling to Israel was exciting and moving, the travel to our land.
But it was more than that. While Israel is the land of our people, it is also the land of the Torah, the land of Judaism lived full. And Jerusalem was the place where the wisdom of the Torah took shape. It was the city that offered the hope for a glimpse of the depth of the Torah in living color.
I must admit, I didn’t know what transcendence would look like or feel like. It would be Jewish somehow. And it would be in Jerusalem. At the Wall, most likely. But the sense that Jerusalem was holy, was elevated and was where the wisdom of the Torah was lived, that was intuitive.
We Jews are fortunate that we have a city to go to, to seek. It is our place to seek wisdom, to seek meaning and to seek the transcendent. For us, the search for meaning has an address – Jerusalem. It is the place in which Judaism is alive, writ large. It is the place to return to, to seek anew. It is the address for all Jews to search for meaning.
Especially in our time, there is a need to reclaim the search for depth and a great need to allow the murmurings within to find expression. Jerusalem is the gift of our time. It is just what we need, in this the parched era of Jewish history. We need a place to experience our Judaism dynamically – and we have it in Jerusalem.
For many of us, Jerusalem has been the catalyst of our Jewish expression. And I think for many of us, Jerusalem continues to be the place we turn to in the hopes of deepening our Jewish expression.
That is what I think about on Yom Yerushalayim. And why I think it is deserving of our appreciation and attention.