Joshua Hammerman
Rabbi, award winning journalist, author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi"

The Jerusalem of Dreamers

The scenes of carnage at the synagogue in Har Nof are still vividly imprinted in our minds.  The images of blood stained siddurim and tefillin on the floor cannot be easily erased. We mourn all the victims of the attack 

One of the victims, Rabbi Twersky, in a recorded lecture a couple of years ago, spoke of attacks on synagogues in Jewish communities throughout the world, saying, “It could happen here too.”  He was tragically correct.

I’ve always felt that if peace ever comes between Israel and her neighbors, Jerusalem will be the ultimate litmus test.  If reconciliation can make it there, it can make it anywhere.  Sadly, there is a growing gap between what the rabbis called “Jerusalem on high,” the ideal Jerusalem, and the earthy, blood stained Jerusalem we see today.

But anyone who has spent considerable time in the city, feeling the pulse of centuries and civilizations on every street corner, hearing the calls of the muezzin blending with the church bells and shofars, the scents of hyssop and the taste of za’atar, the omnipresent purple flowers in the spring – and the friendly banter of shopkeepers looking to strike a bargain – anyone who has tasted a small sampling of what Jerusalem can be, will never be able to accept the Jerusalem that is.

Back in 1969, just after the Six Day War, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote of Jerusalem:

 “She is the city where waiting for God was born, where the anticipation of everlasting peace came into being. Jerusalem is waiting for the prologue of redemption, for new beginning…The evenings often feel like Kol Nidre nights. Unheard music, transfiguring thoughts. Prayers are vibrant. The Sabbath finds it  hard to go away…”

The prophet Zechariah (8:3-5) summed up how many of us feel about Jerusalem’s potential to bring the peoples of the world together:

 “God says: I have returned to Zion, and I will dwell in Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the God of Hosts will be called the holy mountain. Thus says the God of Hosts:  Yet again old men and women will be in the streets of Jerusalem, each with a staff in hand because of old age. And the streets of the city will be filled with young boys and girls playing in the streets”.

But this week, we saw fulfilled the vision of Psalm 79:

 “God, the other nations have come into Your domain; they have defiled Your holy temple; they have made Jerusalem into ruins. They have given the dead bodies of Your servants as food to the birds of the heavens, the flesh of Your faithful to the beasts of the earth. Their blood was shed like water around Jerusalem, with none to bury them.”

So which shall it be: the Jerusalem of Dreams or the Jerusalem of Bloodied Earth?

That is the question we face now?  I don’t claim to have an answer.  But I do know that if Jerusalem belongs only to some, it will belong to no one.  For the Jerusalem of Heaven to be achieved, people on all sides are going to have to love this jewel enough to share it.  To share and not to divide.  To share under Israeli security but joint administration.  To share as part of two states.  And to share in a manner that none of its citizens feels physically threatened  and no one’s rights are encroached upon.  To share  because it is to precious not to share.  To share because to divide it would be to destroy it.  And to share because all attempts at domination have failed – she’s been besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times, and where has that gotten the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Brits, Jordanians – and us?

We read in the midrash: (Sources collected in a packet distributed by the rabbinic organization T’ruah)

There are ten measures of beauty in the world; Nine in Jerusalem and one in the rest of the world.

There are ten measures of suffering in the world; Nine in Jerusalem and one in the rest of the world.

There are ten measures of might in the world; Nine in Jerusalem and one in the rest of the world.

There are ten measures of wisdom in the world; Nine in Jerusalem and one in the rest of the world.

There are ten measures of hypocrisy in the world; Nine in Jerusalem and one in the rest of the world.

There are ten measures of Torah in the world; Nine in Jerusalem and one in the rest of the world.

Ten measures of hypocrisy… hmm.  And that was way before the UN and CNN (who sank to a new low this week) and way before Abbas trumped up supposed Israeli attempts to change the status quo on the Temple Mount – and way before Israeli leaders like Likud MP Moshe Feiglin fanned those very flames.  Ten measures of hypocrisy.

Maybe if we could just eliminate the sloganeering, grandstanding and incitement, we can come just a little bit closer to achieving the Jerusalem of our Dreams.

This is a sad week, a tragic week.  And you will hear no pithy slogans or grandstanding talking points from me.  I don’t want to create more noise, nothing more to disturb that precious mix – of shofar, muezzin and bell.

About the Author
Award-winning journalist, father, husband, son, friend, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and rabbi of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Author of Mensch-Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi – Wisdom for Untethered Times and "Embracing Auschwitz: Forging a Vibrant, Life-Affirming Judaism that Takes the Holocaust Seriously." His Substack column, One One Foot: A Rabbi's Journal, can be found at Rabbi Hammerman was a winner of the Simon Rockower award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism, for his 2008 columns on the Bernard Madoff case, which appeared first on his blog and then were discussed widely in the media. In 2019, he received first-prize from the Religion News Association, for excellence in commentary. Among his many published personal essays are several written for the New York Times Magazine and Washington Post. He has been featured as's Conservative representative in its "Ask the Rabbi" series and as "The Jewish Ethicist," fielding questions on the New York Jewish Week's website. Rabbi Hammerman is an avid fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and all things Boston; he also loves a good, Israeli hummus. He is an active alum of Brown University, often conducting alumni interviews of prospective students. He lives in Stamford with his wife, Dr. Mara Hammerman, a psychologist. They have two grown children, Ethan and Daniel, along with Cobie, Casey and Cassidy, three standard poodles. Contact Rabbi Hammerman: (203) 322-6901 x 307