Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

Yom Yerushalayim: Can We Be Big, Not Just Powerful?

Tag Meir Flower March Yom Yerushalayim May 2022 Courtesy

Yom yerushalayim, a day I used to, in a previous life, celebrate. All that is now a memory.

Once again, I participated in Tag Meir’s marvelous flower march, organized by the paragon of vision, social intelligence, and love of Israel, Gadi Gevaryahu. As I told my ben zug afterwards, an experience simultaneously so very uplifting and so utterly depressing.

Much has been said about this march, including a great deal about how we cannot give in to Hamas threats and call it off, or even direct its route so it does not go through the Muslim quarter of the Old City. So now it’s about Hamas. They dictate what we do, they pull our strings. They say no, so we say, hell, yes. Bravo. How about what is right for us, because it is right for us?

I did not hear a single politician, a leader of any kind, religious or otherwise, including the Mayor of Jerusalem, say a single word meant for Jewish ears, not a syllable, about how the unification of Jerusalem has to be a blessing for ALL its residents. That if we celebrate the unification of the city, we might pay the slightest bit of attention to the 40% of it that is Palestinian. And how they feel. That it’s not just about us.

That allowing ourselves to shove our power, our triumph, our sovereignty, in the faces of others who don’t see that as celebratory is cheap chauvinism, unworthy of a tradition that has us abbreviate Hallel on pesach and remove wine from our cups at the seder because the downfall, suffering, even of oppressors, which Palestinian civilians, in the Old City or elsewhere, are not, is regrettable and surely, nothing to sing about.

The Palestinians of East Jerusalem are under our sovereignty not by their will but because Jordan lost in 1967. The vast majority– 55 years later, most have known nothing else but Israeli rule– want to just live their lives, make a living, educate their children, live their religious and cultural lives as they determine, and be treated with respect. For the entirety of who they are. Parallel lives with us.

Have any of those spouting about yom yerushalayim spent time talking to people who live in east Jerusalem, in the shuk– not Jews, I mean, but Palestinians? Because I spoke to plenty, or rather, I listened. Try it. Want to take a small, tiny step for something better? Look them in the eye, and listen. Just listen.

Listen to what they experience. Their experience of us.

I also spoke sometimes, said, il haq ma’ek. You are right.

Show some understanding and respect. Treat them, in the difficult situation they are in, exactly as we would wish to be treated. Don’t revel in humiliating, degrading them– we won, you lost, eat dirt. It is a hillul hashem, and, if nothing else, so stupid, just stupid, it takes one’s breath away. Being humiliated is not something people forget. Being treated with respect and consideration also sticks.

If nothing else, do people realize that all the shops in the shuk have to close, lose business, because of this march? Why should they pay because of this? They hide behind shuttered shops and homes because the flag bearers make their presence known by ramming flag poles on the doors and shutters just, you know, to show them who’s who. People have to flee the streets, grab their children indoors. And when the children ask, What is this? What answers do you think they hear? That is their narrative of oppression. And we dictate it.

Does this not shame us to our very core? Is this not what our oppressors did to us on their big days, especially Easter, terrorizing us, as we hid behind closed doors, in cellars, under tables? Mi’sham raaya? From this, as the Talmud puts it, we take a lesson?

And to be crystal clear, this is not just Lehava or La Familia, the rest are just normative revelers. That is a vile lie. This has been done every year, it’s a tradition. Go ahead. Feed hate. Don’t just feed it, fertilize it. Put it on steroids. And then cry, victim!

Or, try something very, very different. Empathy. Respect.

We won. Is that not enough?

Celebrate in a way that takes in the complex reality here. Drink wine but also take some off your cup. Abbreviate that Hallel. Make serious gestures of understanding to the other side. Certainly, don’t make the day one they detest, lose from, fear. A day that feeds only desire for revenge.

Learn from our own history, for God’s sake. No, for our sake! Unless what we want is just an endless, mindless, mindless!! repetition of hate breeding hate breeding hate and violence.

I did not hear a single word, not a syllable, from any politician or leader of any kind, about this. Shame on them.

Prime Minister Bennet: you said that this day has become the possession of only the religious Zionists but that it should be the day of all Israelis (sic). Perhaps you might give this  further thought. When others of us, religious, or not, and Zionists, see this march as the expression of religious chauvinists, religious racists.

Here’s something that would make peace-loving people of all ethnicities here celebrate: you saying, loud and clear, to Jewish as well as Palestinian ears, that the policy of de facto differential arrests stops now and that any and all who perpetrate violence, in Jerusalem or anywhere under Israeli control, will be sought out, arrested, tried, fined heavily, and imprisoned.

Israel: can we be big, and not just powerful?

Tag Meir’s motto, you know, from Psalms 34:15, said in daily tefilla, only Tag Meir doesn’t just chant it, they mean it: סור מרע ועשה טוב  Desist from evil, do good.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and read Torah there in the first such service, in 1988. She is first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel, using scrolls held there, and she opposes the Kotel deal, which would criminalize women's group prayer at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post. She is currently at work on a book of scholarly advocacy about the history of agunot and how to free gunot and end iggun.