Jerusalem, on the shore of eternity

Brushing against the Jerusalem stone on my walk home, I am reminded of my appreciation for living in Israel’s capital. Jerusalem’s streets stand as an emblem of the Jewish people’s 2,000-year fight for returned sovereignty. As the birds chirp and I notice inhabitants building their lives here, I smile. I’m walking through a history of love and struggle, while simultaneously taking a step toward the future.

Yehuda Amicahai wrote, “Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of eternity.” On this Jerusalem Day, celebrating the 45th anniversary of the city’s unification, we commemorate our ability to pray at the Western Wall and of our ability to wander the whole city. This holiday reminds us of Jerusalem’s history, of all it has been through and all it will go through. With this history in mind, we recall Jerusalem’s eternal importance and its unique character as Israel’s capital.

Yet, in reflecting on the eternal nature of the city, we would be amiss if we did not particularly notice Yehuda Amichai’s label of Jerusalem as a “port city.” At the root of the word port, as seen in the Latin meaning of portus, is the concept of harbor and refuge. A port city: a space where people enter and leave, and a place inherently influenced by the people found within its limits.  Jerusalem, as a port city, is made complex by virtue of its human diversity; its value marked by the harbor it can provide.

Our landlocked port city has a vibrancy and essence differentiating it from other cities in Israel, and certainly in the world.  It is an ancient city searching for its appropriate modern culture- fighting to reconcile its past with its future, and straining to balance both within her walls – in order to define how it will stand at the shore of eternity.

Unable to face this lofty task, tired of fighting, many of Jerusalem’s citizens, have thrown their hands up and retreated: “the fight for Jerusalem’s eternal status is not for me!” they whisper on the descent to Tel Aviv. In 2009 7,000 people left Jerusalem, 60% percent of whom were Jewish young-adults and families. Jerusalem is losing its young and pluralistic Jewish (secular, progressive, traditional and dati leumi) population. In order to serve as a harbor, welcoming to people of all Jewish backgrounds and open to the presence of other faiths, the city needs its pluralistic population to stay.

Yet, despite the migration, a small, but crucial population is making its voice heard here. Jerusalem has captured the hearts of Israel’s activist community – more specifically its young-activist population. Many of them are best known for heading the summer social protests in Jerusalem, but their reach and pull goes much deeper. They passionately and desperately want to expose a Jerusalem that remains embracing, and evolves toward attracting a rejuvenated culture, intellectualism and spirituality.

The trend can and has started to be reversed – for the first time in over 15 years there have been an increase of 109 new students enrolled in Jerusalem’s secular schools (as recently reported by Haaretz). Imagine all of the changes possible for Jerusalem if we all joined in and collectively raised our voices to become modern day Jerusalem halutzeem (pioneers)? The Zionist ideology of the past reminds us of the collective memory of a time when living in Israel meant working together, giving of oneself for the land and for the greater good of Israel – the Jewish homeland. The Kibbutz became a symbol of the halutz’s Zionism. Today, Jerusalem similarly has the potential to take on a modern-day version of the Zionist ideology that taught us to build the country. Jerusalem halutzeem can give of themselves to develop the city and move it forward.  We have a Jewish State, but our work is not finished.  Keeping Jerusalem eternally relevant is in our hands. Each and every Israeli citizen and Jewish person should feel responsible for a little piece of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is thirsty for people who recognize the city’s unique characteristics, who want to make an impact and who want to take part in a conversation on the future of not only Jerusalem, but also Israel.  The state of Jerusalem impacts the state of the nation.

Fortunately, we have a Mayor, city council members, young-activists, families and leaders who believe in the magic of Jerusalem and have a vision for the future. Let us join them and together work to make an impact on securing the fulfillment of Jerusalem’s potential – a city representative of the country and the Jewish people.

About the Author
Emily Bernstein is the Resource Development Coordinator at Ruach Hadasha (New Spirit). Ruach Hadasha (New Spirit) is an organization started 9 years ago by Hebrew University graduates in order to encourage young-adults and professionals to stay in Jerusalem. It aims to make Jerusalem a vibrant and pluralistic city through projects promoting culture, affordable housing, community and professional networking. After making aliyah from Florida three year ago, Emily started a Masters Degree in Conflict Research, Resolution and Management at Hebrew University. She is currently writing her thesis on political efficacy and risk-taking behavior.