Jerusalem Day Family Parade: Jerusalem is not ours; we are hers

This year, again, I will participate in the alternative Jerusalem Day Family Parade that we, in the Yerusalmit Movement, began three years ago. This year, again, it will be bittersweet.

Traditional Jerusalem Day Flag Parade (Photo by Tali Mayer)
Traditional Jerusalem Day Flag Parade (Tali Mayer)

I grew up in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area and, as a teenager, I participated in the annual Jerusalem Day Flag Parade. This giant parade, comprised of tens of thousands of joyous teens representing the Religious Zionist camp, marches through the center of town, and culminates at the Kotel (Wailing Wall). All are dressed in blue and white, waving flags, singing songs about the historic city. It was always an exciting opportunity to meet friends and new young people from other Bnei Akiva branches, from other yeshivot and ulpanot. We felt and shared a deep sense of belonging in the strange, foreign, slightly mysterious city. Sometimes, while marching at night, there were moments of silent song — moments of sanctity.

We did not question why we were the only ones there. We did not wonder who or what remained hidden behind all the locked doors of the Old City. We were blind, but it was the blindness of youth. It was not evil or cold-hearted, only naive.

Years later, as a Jerusalem resident and with a young family, I brought my children to the Old City on the eve of Jerusalem Day. Unexpectedly, we encountered the march. The particular group we faced was a frightening one: they sang aggressively, they shouted, they rapped on locked doors. I knew they were a small minority of the parade, but still, I was scared and disturbed. As a Jerusalem resident, I felt these marchers were crudely crushing our efforts to develop neighborly relations with Arab residents of the city.

I love Jerusalem, and their march was not an expression of that love. Love for Jerusalem cannot be expressed carelessly, while disregarding the city itself and demeaning the people within it. That is comparable to the actions of those who burn down forests in their fight for this land that they claim to love: you cannot purport to love the land of Palestine and subsequently destroy it in acts of revenge against others who love it just the same. That is not love.

I stopped attending the Jerusalem Day Flag Parade.

Still, we wanted so badly to march, to truly celebrate this city and its joy, so we began an alternative Jerusalem Day Family Parade.
We chose another route, on the boardwalk that joins the Arab neighborhood of Beit Tzafafa, the older Katamonim neighborhood, and the gentrified German Colony. We wanted to include as many different communities and types of people as possible. We wanted to rejoice in all of the city’s colors and cultures. We wanted to celebrate the authentically diverse and vibrant nature of the city we love.

The Yerushalmit Movement's Jerusalem Day Family Parade. (Photo: Boaz Sherez)
The Yerushalmit Movement’s Jerusalem Day Family Parade. (Boaz Sherez)

Our march is one of many initiatives to instill new meaning in Jerusalem Day, whose mission is to reflect the diverse, multicultural fabric of Jerusalem. We see this diversity as a blessing, not merely a challenge. Our vision of Jerusalem is a “community of communities”: we acknowledge that these different communities coexist, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in conflict, and that none are going to disappear. The situation is not temporary — living together is our reality, and we must uplift coexistence from an inevitable fate to an ideal destiny.

Among those activities are a shared three-religion prayer service, a teaching initiative, cultural activities, exhibits, and walking tours. There is a great deal of creativity and beauty involved in the development of this new-old ethos: Jerusalem does not belong to one sector but to all of its residents. Jerusalem is not ours; we are hers.

This ethos is new. For decades, we have spoken of Jerusalem in terms of conflict, sovereignty, even belonging. But this ethos is also very old. Thousands of years ago the prophets Isaiah and Micah described Jerusalem as a city where nations gather, all in the name of God; a place above disagreement between peoples and faiths.

So yes, it is bittersweet. I wish our march could include thousands and culminate in the Old City, along with all of its residents. I wish that we could come together to rejoice in the vibrant diversity so strengthened by the reunification of this city. Above all, I wish I could somehow combine the two marches, as they are merged in my heart.

But until that happens, I will march with my children in the Yerushalmit Movement’s Jerusalem Day Parade, with popsicles and Marsh Dondurma, and we will celebrate this city with joy. Come join us!

The Jerusalem Day Family Parade will begin at 16:30 on Sunday June 5th, at Oranim Junction, and march to the First Train Station.
For Parade details: Jerusalem Day Family Parade Facebook Event

(Translation from the original Hebrew: Dina Weiner and Yael Jaffe)


About the Author
Tehila Friedman-Nachalon is the director of Kolot's center for jewish leadership and a fellow in Shaharit, a think tank promoting new social covenant in israel. She was a fellow in the Mandel Leadership Institute, former Chair of Ne'emanei Torah ve'Avodah, a modern Orthodox movement promoting pluralism and democracy, and board member of the Yerushalmit Movement, a non-profit for a pluralistic Jerusalem. She was Director of the Israel office of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, a grant officer at the Rothschild Foundation, and an adviser to Natan Sharansky.
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