Elchanan Poupko

Remember: Jerusalem Day Did Not Use to Exist

Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem. (public domain)

I remember vividly walking down the streets of Jerusalem with my grandfather Rabbi Baruch Poupko and being amused at his amazement. He was born in Velizh, Russia, in 1917 and spoke with I have a Russian accent. I remember him looking up the hill at the Jerusalem Stone-made apartment buildings of our neighborhood Har Nof and gasping at how remarkable and tremendous they were. What seemed to me like simple Jerusalem apartments that my friends and I grew up in was somehow an unusual spectacle to him. It was the kind of thing you might smirk at when you hear from your grandparents, feeling like you know better. In retrospect, I know I was wrong, and he was right.

Looking at the city of Jerusalem reaching a population of 1 million after the 2,000 years in which it was a small City that existed mostly in the minds of those who dreamed about it is to look at a miracle.

Looking at the average neighborhood of Jerusalem, which most readers have never heard of, having more Yeshiva students and Jewish school children than entire continents is a breathtaking miracle.

Seeing Jewish children in Jerusalem today being one of the only groups of Jewish children in the world who simply do not know what Antisemitism is because they and their friends have never experienced it is a breathtaking miracle.

The fact that so many Jews around the world take it for granted that they can take only one day off before a Jewish holiday, get on a flight, and spend the holiday in a beautiful hotel in Jerusalem, a hotel that can put the shame the most beautiful hotels in New York City, is a miracle.

Thinking of my own grandfather Rabbi Baruch Poupko, who grew up in the small town of Velizh who managed to flee Russia in 1931, I realize what a miracle this is. The vast majority of anyone my grandfather knew as a child in his town of Velizh were burned to death by the Nazis during the Holocaust. Those who were not murdered or did not die while serving in the Soviet army disappeared behind Stalin’s iron curtain. To see not one but many large buildings and a beautiful new neighborhood in the city that was but a dream to so many astonished my grandfather. Despite being president of the Mizrachi and an active zionist since his youth, being able to see the land of Israel populated with its children was breathtakingly inspiring for my grandfather–as it should have been.

If there is one plea I can impart to the people of Jerusalem in these tumultuous times, it is: never take the miracle of Jerusalem for granted. Be like that Jewish child from Velizh to whom every single apartment building in Jerusalem is a miracle. Gaspt at it. Be astonished. Understand that it is not something that has to exist and only exists because of countless Jews dreaming of it and hoping for it. Understand that you all are the guardians of those dreams and must do everything you can to make sure those dreams never shatter, and rest assured that if you keep this perspective is kept, a great deal of Israel’s internal divisions will fade away.

Happy Yom Yerushalayim.

About the Author
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko is a New England based eleventh-generation rabbi, teacher, and author. He has written Sacred Days on the Jewish Holidays, Poupko on the Parsha, and hundreds of articles published in five languages. He is the president of EITAN--The American Israeli Jewish Network.
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