Jerusalem Day celebrations 370.
(photo credit:Marc Israel Sellem)
Everyone has his or her own association with the Six Day War. For me, it was the
end of ham sandwiches.
I don’t remember feeling overly concerned with
what was happening in the Middle East at the time, but I do remember that when
it was all over my mother announced that since God had done us a favor we would
now do one for him, and proceeded to ban pork products from the Reform home I
grew up in.
For my wife, it was the first time she remembers feeling that
something set her apart from her non-Jewish classmates in Chile. While they were
oblivious to what was going on halfway around the world, she was worried sick –
for reasons she had difficulty articulating back then but that would eventually
bring her to Israel to live.
For a group of pro-Israel Jewish student
activists I met with not long ago, born 25 years after the war ended, it was
“the beginning of the occupation.” They didn’t tell me that with any rancor nor
with any sense of either irony or cynicism. It was simply a “fact” they had
grown up with.
But for all of us, the Six Day War also meant the
reunification of Jerusalem – an emotionally powerful, even if not fully
comprehended, marvel that also served to unify the Jewish people, regardless of
religious orientation, geographic locale, personal history or political
Which is all the more reason for feeling sickened by the
reality that today the undivided capital of the State of Israel is dividing our
nation in ways that none of us could have imagined 45 years ago.
Tisha Be’av only nine weeks away, we would do well to remember that the sort of
internecine differences endemic to contemporary Israel that were so evident on
Jerusalem Day were once responsible for the destruction of the city. There is no
reason to believe that if Jerusalem should remain so divided that it will not
fall again. If we are to avoid that fate, there are three phenomena in
particular that all of us should do something about, be it by examining our own
behavior or by calling upon our elected officials to change theirs.
Jerusalem Day seems to have come under the custody of an increasingly
nationalistic, intolerant and xenophobic element of our population. I don’t know
if that is because it was calculatedly wrested away from the rest of us, or if
we carelessly (in which case I would also add inexcusably) relinquished our
rights to the holiday by neglecting its celebration.
Whatever the case,
that the occasion’s traditional Flag Dance was characterized by “large groups of
Orthodox boys [who] chanted ‘Death to Arabs’” as reported in this paper (“15
arrested on Jerusalem Day,” May 21) should be a source of national
It is an intolerable phenomenon that is also a desecration of the
memory of those who died while fighting for the liberation of the city in a
battle that we did everything in our power to avert, but which, once forced upon
us, was fought with heroic bravery and the deepest sense of
history-in-the-making. It is no less a desecration of their memory that proud
and patriotic Jewish citizens of the state should now be calling for deleting
the event from our calendar altogether (“Leftwing protesters: abolish Jerusalem
Day,” May 21).
2. Jerusalem Day celebrations have taken on an ever more
fundamentalist religious character. It is appalling that the official march to
the Old City has been tainted by gender separation, with women required to enter
through the Jaffa Gate and men through the Dung Gate (“Let the Jerusalem Day
festivities begin!” May 18), effectively broadcasting to huge segments of the
population that they are not really welcome to join in.
symptomatic, of course, of the disgraceful trend of gender segregation and
exclusion of women in the public domain that has so riled our society in recent
months. It is no more excusable for being so. In fact, in light of the public
outcry over the phenomenon and the sexism of which it is both a cause and a
reflection, the municipality should not have sanctioned such a parade.
are only days away from Shavuot, celebrating the receiving of the same Torah
that this separation of the sexes is meant to honor. Yet then and there at Sinai
we stood together, men and women, one people in awe of our one God.
Jerusalem Day, rather than being an opportunity to acclaim the fulfillment of
our responsibility for presiding over the municipality’s diverse population
without prejudice in respect to ethnicity, nationality or religion, has instead
become an occasion for lording our supremacy.
While I agree with Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s statement that “Israel without Jerusalem is like a
body without a heart,” I would remind him that it is a heart that continued to
beat through 2,000 years of exile, destruction, occupation and division. Our
possession of the city has nothing to do with its power to inspire – from afar
no less (and perhaps even more?) than from up close.
And personally, I
feel that power diminished by the stridency of the prime minister’s remarks,
including his insistence that nothing would prevent us from continuing to build
throughout the city. President Shimon Peres was no less passionate about the
significance of Jerusalem for the Jewish people, but far more
“Prayers from the Western Wall, the calls of the muezzin
and church bells can all be heard without censorship,” he said, adding that we
must do everything possible to realize the hopes for peace that Jerusalem
Furthermore, though I also concur with Netanyahu’s assertion
that only Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem will guarantee everyone free access
to its holy sites, I am discomforted by his neglect of our failed obligation to
guarantee free access to the city’s resources as well.
Some 40 percent of
the residents of east Jerusalem do not complete high school, due in part to a
shortage of a thousand classrooms. Some 84% of the children there subsist
beneath the poverty level. To dismiss these statistics with the observation that
“every major city in the world has less desirable neighborhoods” as does Ilana
Brown (“There is no Zionism without Jerusalem,” May 21) is
To then assert, as she does, that “Classical Zionism... did
not provide a plan for a utopian society or even a framework for solving
societal ills” is nothing short of a display of colossal ignorance. As a
volunteer for Im Tirtzu, named in honor of Zionism’s founding father, she has no
excuse for not knowing better.
The New Society Herzl imagined into being
in his futuristic novel Altneuland thrives on an economic system of “mutualism,”
which eliminated both unemployment and poverty. Education through university is
tuition-free for everyone – Arabs, too. And Jerusalem has become a model for
coexistence, an internationalized, thriving metropolis in which “magnificent new
buildings... serving Christians, Muslims and Jews stood next to one another,”
while “in a large square stood the splendid Peace Palace... the center of
international efforts to alleviate the suffering of the downtrodden around the
Brown may not like this vision, but there is no denying that it
is the ideal set before us by the visionary of the Jewish state at the very
beginning of our long journey home. Zionism doesn’t get any more classical than
It really doesn’t matter, then, whether or not we interpret the Six
Day War as a favor from God. Jerusalem Day should regardless serve as an
inspiration to all of us to edge the Jerusalem of the here-and-now just a bit
closer to the Jerusalem of the days-to-come, so that its celebration will
faithfully reflect the aspirations of our forebears – those who set out from
Egypt just seven weeks ago on their way to the Promised Land via Mount Sinai and
those who set the Zionist dream in motion and who fought for its fulfillment,
who now rest on Mount Herzl.
What an unspeakable tragedy it would be if
generations to come were required to add our downfall to the litany of
calamities that befell our people on Tisha Be’av due to transgressions of our
The writer is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization
and a member of The Jewish Agency Executive. The opinions expressed herein are