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Meredith Rothbart

We must remember to love our neighbors as ourselves

I decided to make aliya a few times throughout my childhood and each one of those times I was in the Old City of Jerusalem. It just felt so clear – the miracle of our return, the undeniable leaps toward redemption. All of my childhood brainwashing came to fruition. It was more than a calling; I felt summoned. And here I am – living that miracle… almost.

I wear a ring on my right hand that I bought back in college, a tiny silver handmade ring that looks like the walls of Jerusalem. The jeweler offered to inscribe on the inside of the ring the famous verse from Psalms: “If I forget thee o’Jerusalem, may my right hand be forgotten.” But moving here permanently and wearing a ring of Jerusalem on my right hand, that felt redundant. Instead, I worried… that once I was living in the Holy City of Jerusalem I may get too proud, may forget my manners. I may forget that just a mere few decades ago we couldn’t touch these ancient walls.

So instead I asked the jeweler to inscribe “Love your neighbor as yourself” inside the ring. He argued with me, saying it’s not a relevant quote for the design of the piece. I disagreed – it could not be more fitting. As we come home to our promised land, we have forgotten to love our neighbors. This was anyway how we lost Jerusalem in the first place.

Jerusalem Day should be and could be an annual acknowledgement, appreciation and anticipation of how much closer we are getting to a rebuilt Jerusalem, like the days of old.

Jerusalem Day could be and should be a day where we look at how much we’ve grown as a people, getting closer to Hashem each year and serving as a light unto the nations as we bask in the glory of returning to our home after 2000 years.

But it’s not. Well, for me it’s not. Not yet.

Two steps forward, one step back, as they say. Although lately the political situation, the blasphemy within which racism and self destruction are justified, feels much more like a backwards sprint.

Jerusalem Day, specifically the iconic flag march, has become a mockery of Jewish values, a cancellation of dereh eretz (dignified behavior), an insult to religious Zionism and a real chilul HaShem – a desecration of G-d’s name in the deepest sense of the term. And to be honest I feel hurt, angry, disappointed and even a bit scared.

I feel hurt that my own people are attacking and mocking our neighbors. Neighbors with whom we have a heavy and complicated relationship. Neighbors whom we should cherish and treat gently, because when we came home to our land we threatened theirs. I believe it is time to own that, struggle with it, and work to figure it out.

I feel angry that the extreme right has stolen Jerusalem Day. They’ve made it difficult for me to be fully present at my daughter’s school ceremony or the public singing activity in the park next to my house. I feel angry that they have stolen the term “religious Zionist” and made it something evil. Because it isn’t. It comes from the purest place.

I feel disappointed in myself for not having a clearer answer of how to handle the complexity of this day – how to stop the violence and celebrate my identity and religious realization all at once.

And I’m also admittedly scared. We have lost our right to this land before, and it was no one’s fault but our own. I am scared that for the first time we may be dangerously close to wide scale baseless hatred which can only lead to one thing – another exile.

About the Author
Meredith immigrated to Jerusalem in 2008 from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Somehow in between studying in a religious Zionist feminist seminary and serving in the IDF, she participated in a leadership program for young Israelis and Palestinians which inspired her career in peacebuilding. Meredith co-founded Amal-Tikva (meaning hope in Arabic and Hebrew), a collaborative initiative where philanthropists, field experts, and organizations come together to support civil society peacebuilding. In the moments when she’s not pursuing peace in the Middle East, you can find Meredith at the playground near her Jerusalem home chasing her adorable kids.
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