Succot at Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Jerusalem Day Jewish tradition speaks of two Jerusalems: Yerushalayim shel maala, and Yerushalayim shel mata, heavenly and earthly Jerusalem. Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the reunification of the Jewish people’s millennia-old capital under Jewish sovereignty for the first time since the year 70, is observed by many as the first time in history that the earthly and heavenly Jerusalems merged.
The event was not merely a particularly satisfying part of the Six Day War victory, but an historic event for the entire Jewish people. Suddenly after 19 years of desecration under Jordanian occupation, the city was reunited.
It is ironic that Jordan has become the main defender of alleged Palestinian rights in Jerusalem’s Old City, whose Jewish Quarter the Jordanian Arab Legion ethnically cleansed when it occupied the city. Under Jordanian rule, half of the Old City’s 58 synagogues were demolished and tombstones in the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives were plundered for building materials.
Not to dwell on the negative, the important thing was that Jews were free to pray at the Western Wall once more.
But half a century later, not all Jews are free to pray at the Western Wall. This is an indication that the heavenly Jerusalem is once again lingering beyond our reach. But on such a day of celebration, it is more appropriate to focus on some of the reasons we all have to celebrate.
The idea that every day is Jerusalem Day, and one of the day’s themes, is based on a verse from the Book of Psalms (122:3): “Ke’ir shechubra lah yachdav” – “Built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together.”
This is one example of the Bible coming true. We live in a thriving capital city whose diverse population comprises every variety of religious and political persuasion. That we basically all get along is a miracle that hints of that heavenly city. Even the Jews who agree to disagree, such as the Orthodox who recite a special Hallel prayer on Jerusalem Day, as opposed to the ultra-Orthodox who deny the religious significance of the State of Israel.
Unfortunately, what should be a heavenly day has been marred by violence, instigated by ultra-nationalist Jews who conduct a so-called Flag Parade – Israel national flags – through the Old City. It has become an instant Israeli tradition to hold what amounts to a “victory lap” through the Muslim Quarter. As expected, the parade has provoked racist slogans and incitement to violence.
In the past, anticipating confrontation, the police would bar entry to Arab residents “for their own safety” and encourage Muslim Quarter shopkeepers to close early and remain indoors. This year, however, the police and organizers agreed to alter the schedule to avoid clashes with Muslims celebrating Ramadan, also in the Old City.
Such long-overdue consideration is to be commended, for it shows the kind of coexistence that needs to be cultivated in the city. In many ways, Jerusalem still suffers violence that did not end with the War of Independence, let alone the Six Day War. Under the 1947 UN Partition Plan, whose two-state solution was rejected by the Arabs, Jerusalem was to be an international city, neither exclusively Arab nor Jewish, for a trial period of 10 years, after which a referendum would be held by residents to determine which country to join, Jewish or Arab.
The Palestinian Authority is now insisting that one condition of a peace agreement is that the city be redivided, and east Jerusalem become the capital of a future Palestinian state. If that Partition Plan referendum were held today, most of Jerusalem’s nearly 900,000 residents would opt for keeping it Israel’s united capital.
It is well to remember that, immediately following the Six Day War, then-defense minister Moshe Dayan relinquished control over the heart of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, to the Wakf, the Muslim religious trust. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. As Dayan stated: “We have returned to the holiest of our places, never to be parted from them again....
We did not come to conquer the sacred sites of others or to restrict their religious rights, but rather to ensure the integrity of the city and to live in it with others in fraternity.”
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
In Israel’s capital, the interface of the earthly and the heavenly moves on, sometimes veering in one direction or another. Jerusalem’s physical and spiritual beauty is shared by Jews the world over who feel its presence, perhaps no more beautifully than under the wedding canopy, where building a home in Israel begins. The wedding blessing itself acknowledges that all Jewish weddings symbolically take place in Jerusalem, and reminds us never to forget it.