Todd Berman

The Journey from Yom Yerushalayim to Shavuot

“And they encamped in the wilderness [of Sinai] and Israel camped there across from the mountain.” (Ex. 19:2)

“[at Sinai they were] like one person with one heart, but all other places of encampment were full of struggle and strife.” (Rashi)

Yom Yerushalayim, the national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem after defeating the Jordanian army, is bittersweet for me.  In 1968, the Israeli government declared the 28th of Iyar to be a national holiday yet it wasn’t until 1998 that this holiday was enshrined in law.

During Shavuot of 1967, less than a week after liberation, the Old City of Jerusalem and the Western Wall were opened for visitors and became a unique rallying point for Jewish unity. The mood that year on the holiday recounting the giving of the Torah was absolutely euphoric and almost messianic as stated in the Jerusalem Post at the time:

Every section of the population was represented. Kibbutz members and soldiers rubbing shoulders with Neturei Karta. Mothers came with children in prams, and old men trudged steeply up Mount Zion, supported by youngsters on either side, to see the wall of the Temple before the end of their days.

I was too young to have witnessed this moment in time; but, even reading about it sends chills down my spine. Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, as it was dubbed in Naomi Shemer’s song composed before and after the events, became a vision and metaphor for true unity of soul and purpose.

Moving forward to 2014, Yom Yerushalayim is celebrated almost exclusively by the Dati Leumi, or Modern Orthodox community in Israel. Perhaps this explains the need in 1998 to add legislation to what was once obvious to every Israeli – the importance of Jerusalem for the entire Jewish people. Marching in the streets of the Old City with my yeshiva, I was filled with both joy at what we have gained, but also with sadness at what we have lost: this fleeting vision of unity of the Jewish people.

This lack of unity has seemingly reached new heights as of late.  Harsh rhetoric has overflowed in every direction. From anger over the new draft legislation or the legitimacy of new directions in Judaism to splits over who can and cannot speak at Hillel, or march in the Israel day parade, or even who can talk to who have seized the Jewish media. Rabbis have been recorded calling others the most derogatory and damning names in the middle of Talmud lessons or at public conventions while others have supported boycotts of the Jewish State. How can one not be driven to tears? Where is the “one heart” of our splintered people? What happened to that beautiful moment called Shavuot 1967? What happened to our standing together at Har Sinai?

Besides the absence of secular and Charedi revelers and the disunity this symbolizes, Yom Yerushalayim was marred, for me, for another reason as well —  the lack of access for prayer to the most important Jewish religious symbol, Har HaBayit, the Temple mount.  Almost as soon as the Temple mount was captured by IDF paratroopers, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan handed internal control of the mount back to the Jordanian Islamic Trust and pledged that Jews would be allowed to visit but not pray on the holy site.  Dayan and the Israeli government wanted to assure the world that the State of Israel would guarantee religious freedom; however, in doing so in the manner they chose, they actually denied and continue to deny a basic human right to the Jewish people.  According to article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to freedom… to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Yet, given the present situation on the Temple mount, Jews are denied this basic right to worship and observe their religion in its most holy spot. Where is the moral outrage and where are the protests?

It is well known that the famous medieval commentators debated how the third Temple would be rebuilt. Maimonides, as is his want, writes that it will be restored through human agency. Rashi, on the other hand, describes a Temple of fire sent down to Earth from Heaven.  As with most rabbis today, I am a prepared to wait for Rashi’s vision to come to fruition; however, as Isaiah declares “My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations” can easily be fulfilled today if the Muslim Waqf and the Israeli government would allow Jews to prayer on Har HaBayit.  In peace and harmony can’t we find enough space to declare the glory of the Almighty together as one?

This coming Shavuot, thousands of Jews of all stripes will make the journey to the Western Wall of the Temple mount to remember the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Twice before has this date served as a catalyst to unify our people.  May this holiday again bring our complex community together as one, with one heart and purpose, and may we soon be able to pray together with the entire world community fulfilling the words of our prophets that the house of the Lord will be a house of prayer for everyone.

Chag Sameach


About the Author
Rabbi Berman is the Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. In addition, he has held numerous posts in education from the high school level through adult education. He founded the Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) at Brandeis University and served as rabbinic advisory to the Orthodox community there for several years. Previously, he was a RaM at Midreshet Lindenbaum where he also served as the Rav of the dormitory.
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