Jerusalem Day 2011: history and hope for Israel

RONEN ZVULUN REUTERS A Jewish settler carries a flag during a march from Har Bracha settlement to a lookout point … Continued

RONEN ZVULUN

REUTERS

A Jewish settler carries a flag during a march from Har Bracha settlement to a lookout point on Mount Gerizim, overlooking Joseph’s Tomb and the West Bank city of Nablus May 31, 2011. A few hundred settlers took part in the march marking Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of Israel’s capture of the eastern part of Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East War. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

June 1st 2011 marks the 44th anniversary of Israel’s re-unification/ liberation/ conquest/ occupation of Jerusalem. I use all of those terms, not because I agree that they are all necessarily equally legitimate claims, but because they are equally real to different people — all of whom have deep interest in the city, and some of whom shape global events based on those interests.

How real those overlapping and often competing interests are, is actually far more important than is the debate about which is most accurate. Why? Because as the Hebrew Bible teaches, we are to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalms 122:6), and peace is made by focusing on the present and pursuing our dreams for the future, far more than it is by endlessly arguing about the past.

It’s not that history doesn’t matter – it does. But an obsession with history can all too easily crowd out any real understanding of the present and make any forward progress impossible. There is probably no day on which that challenge is more felt, than it is on Jerusalem Day.

For some, Jerusalem Day marks the beginning of a period of unprecedented levels of religious freedom and genuine celebration of the many faith traditions which see Jerusalem as a holy city. They are correct to see that. At no time in the history of the city have people of all faiths and those of none at all, all enjoyed the freedom of access to Jerusalem’s holy sites, and life in the city as a whole, as they have since Israel’s 1967 victory.

For others though, Jerusalem Day marks the beginning of Israeli hegemony over the city – a reality which causes them pain not dissimilar to the pain which centuries of Muslim or Christian rule caused many Jews. They also see a contemporary Jerusalem which though far better, cleaner and safer for all of its citizens than it ever was, remains a city which invests unequally in the infrastructure and services provided to different sections of the city, generally corresponding to religious and ethnic differences. Those too are facts about contemporary Jerusalem.

Contemporary Jerusalem is both an enormous success story, and a story whose ending is not yet written – a story with many unresolved questions which must be addressed regardless of the political arrangements which negotiators eventually reach. Between the calls for keeping Jerusalem the eternal undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people, and those for the division of the city along the pre- Six Day War lines, there need to be leaders who can acknowledge the truths in claims made on both sides about how the city functions for all of those who live there and how it functioned under those who governed the city before Israel did so.

I love Jerusalem Day and celebrate it proudly and unapologetically. But genuine pride and refusal to apologize for having it are not an excuse for either avoiding serious questions about the present or the need for creative solutions which will yield a future in which others can also celebrate the city and the role it plays in their lives – both religiously and politically.

Praying for the peace of Jerusalem does not mean, and can never mean, peace at any cost. Such arrangements never bring peace anyway. But neither can the mandate to pray for peace avoid the challenges of making real peace by hiding behind commitment to Jerusalem at all costs either.

I hope that this Jerusalem Day brings more than the inevitable speeches by political and religious leaders, which do one of the above. I hope that this Jerusalem day brings speeches which articulate a vision of life in that city and a practical plan for how it could be achieved – a plan which recognizes history and historic precedent, but is not enslaved by it.

What that might look like, I don’t think anyone yet knows, but Jerusalem Day would be a good time to begin that conversation.

About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • amos3_3

    Happy “Jerusalem Day” Israel. All of us Christians know the importance of Jerusalem both to Israel and to the World. We pray for the Peace of Jerusalem and that it remain the “Undivided” Capital of all Israel for ever amen.

  • farmsnorton

    With Obama in office, your screwed.

  • Guest

    lol……Rabbi Wolpe is your expert? Iguess you can infer “murder” becomes a favour in the biblical sense as it implies a reality, nobody is ever murdered, since we’re all destined for the grave. What else has the esteemed rabbi Wolpe confused about? That the fact each Torah takes about a year to write, AND that Torahs are wriiten by orthodox scribes, who are NOT allowed even a slight error- or else that scroll becomes wasted. Not to mention the sofers (scribes) have reproduced torahs this way over 3000yrs. All exactly the same! Now, why would that be? Surely your rabbi Wolpe would forgive and indulge a little creative input by a mere mortal being? Truth is consistent. Yours isn’t!!

  • buddecj

    Jerusalem is the capital of Israel / Palistine. They are one country, they are one people. The idea of a ‘Jewish’ state is by definintion racist. The Palestinians must wake up from their infatuation with death and when they do, they should nudge their bed partner the Israelis. One country, one people, one flag, one capital, etc, etc. If they would accept this and work together toward that end they would run the Middle East and much of North Africa. It is the political answer, the moral answer and the only thing that will ultimately work. Israel/Palistine is one country and that is what the UN should recognize, that is what every civilized nation should accept and encourage.

  • Guest

    Israel is not the U.S.A. If you’ve been to Israel, you’ll know why. So, the sooner these poor so called Palestinians, move, leave, vamanos, the better. The “Palestinian state” movement is a racket. They make millions, tens of millions that disappears. Think, who fires rockets at the country you’re hoping to convince to live in peace with you? Who murders their people, plants bombs, sends suicide bombers, and kidnaps too. That’s simply why there’s never going to be a so called Palestinian state

  • justillthennow

    These are fine notions that Mr. Hirschfield writes, that we should live in the present moment and look to the future, rather than dwell on the past. Better yet would be to just live, fully, in the present, and choose from that for everything. Unrealistic for most human minds and hearts, alas!
    Israel herself, and those that helped form and realize the dream, dreamed for centuries, of re-enshrining the State of Israel into existence, all are dependent and deeply attached to the past. They are nothing without the past that gives them the moral justification for Being Israel. Israel exists only because Jews, seeking a return to what they considered their ancestral (past) home, dreamed and conjured and caused it into manifestation.
    They are likewise still driven by this dream and the imperative to keep it alive.
    It may be easy for Mr. Hirschfield to say now would be a good time to let go of the past and create from the present a better future. I agree. But can he do so, while letting go of what has been, even Israel? Can Jews do so, citizens of Israel do so, even to the dispersal of what the past has brought them to?
    I think they are not up to the challenge. And that Mr. Hirschfield may not be up to his own challenge.

  • chasovnya

    Words. Just words.

  • justillthennow

    Stated even more directly, when it is that Israelis can let go of their OWN attachment to the past, and the maintenance of that past into the future, then we will be able to move into a greater future.
    Of course it is equally true that if the Palestinian would let go of the past, similarly hope springs for the future.
    Of course, it is the Palestinian that is looking over the walls and seeing what was their fathers lands being farmed and built on by the Jews that took it and now own it….
    We all have our crosses to bear. We all bear them as we do.

  • telemachus

    I’m not sure Rabbi Hirschfield is familiar with the Islamic attachment to Jersualem and why its loss is as painful to Jews as he seems to think it is to Moslems:

    “In modern times, notes the Israeli scholar Hava Lazarus-Yafeh, Jerusalem “became the focus of religious and political Arab activity only at the beginning of the present century, and only because of the renewed Jewish activity in the city and Judaism’s claims on the Western Wailing Wall.” British rule over city, lasting from 1917 to 1948, further galvanized Muslim passion for Jerusalem. The Palestinian leader (and mufti of Jerusalem) Hajj Amin al-Husayni made the Temple Mount central to his anti-Zionist efforts, for example raising funds throughout the Arab world for the restoration of the Dome of the Rock. Arab politicians made Jerusalem a prominent destination; for example, Iraqi leaders frequently turned up, where they demonstrably prayed at Al-Aqsa and gave rousing speeches.

    But when Muslims retook the Old City with its Islamic sanctuaries in 1948, they quickly lost interest in it. An initial excitement stirred when the Jordanian forces took the walled city in 1948_as evidenced by the Coptic bishop’s crowning King `Abdallah as “King of Jerusalem” in November of that year_but then the usual ennui set in. The Hashemites had little affection for Jerusalem, where some of their most devoted enemies lived and where `Abdallah himself was shot dead in 1951. In fact, the Hashemites made a concerted effort to diminish the holy city’s importance in favor of their capital, Amman. Jerusalem had served as the British administrative capital, but now all government offices there (save tourism) were shut down. The Jordanians also closed some local institutions (e.g., the Arab Higher Committee) and moved others to Amman (the treasury of the Palestinian waqf, or religious endowment).

    Their effort succeeded. Once again, Arab Jerusalem became an isolated provincial town, now even less important than Nablus. The economy stagnat

  • motherof3

    You are mistaken. There is nothing racist about the idea of a Jewish state, any more than it is racist to have an Armenian state or a Kurdish state or a Tibetan state. To deny any of those four peoples autonomy in their own state is racist.

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