Our eternal city

There is excitement in the air because on June 2, we will celebrate the 52nd anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War.

May 30, 2019 11:36
Our eternal city

ROSE ISLAND Lighthouse on Narragansett Bay, Newport, Rhode Island.. (photo credit: RON COGSWELL/FLICKR)

There is excitement in the air because on June 2, we will celebrate the 52nd anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War.

One of the important elements of this annual event is the close linkage between the US and Eretz Yisrael that was inaugurated by the American consuls who came to Jerusalem in the 19th century. Their reports described the populations of Jerusalem and what transpired here, including the arrival of the first automobile in 1904.

A further example of the ties between the US and Jerusalem can be witnessed through the nearly 40 towns and locales named “Jerusalem” in various American states. Moreover, 19th and 20th century American newspapers carried many articles about the cities of Palestine and its many holy sites. Jerusalem was always the primary city discussed. Those who came back to their homes and reported about what they saw specifically emphasized what they had witnessed in our eternal city. Even with Mark Twain’s satirical comments, the foundation of these ties was constructed ever since Americans first traveled here, responded to the spiritual meaning of Jerusalem, and returned to the US to describe the poignancy of this city.

An example of the use of the name of our city can be found in America’s smallest state, Rhode Island. In the summer of 1973, before we made aliyah in 1977, my wife Rita and I visited Narragansett, Rhode Island, where my wife’s brother, now Dr. Sidney Feld, and his wife, Carol, were living. 

I had learned many years before from the late Prof. Moshe Davis about American locales bearing biblical names. He specifically noted that there were a number of Jerusalems. Since Rhode Island had been founded by Roger Williams for settlers of every faith, on a lark, I asked a native of the area if there was a Jerusalem in the vicinity.

“Have you seen the one in Narragansett?” he asked? Very surprised, my wife, our children Avie Elissa and Tuvia, along with our brother-in-law and sister-in-law, sought to find it. Our hopes were raised when the individual in charge of a local tourist office told us that there was not just a Jerusalem but also a Galilee nearby.

In the 19th century, the fishermen of Narragansett decided that they wanted a biblical linkage for the area where they plied their trade. They felt that God’s blessings would follow from their choice of a name. Naturally, since this was in their minds at a watery site like the Sea of Galilee, Galilee was the name chosen. The story continues in an interesting fashion.

In 1902, a fisherman from Nova Scotia sailed into Narragansett Bay and shouted out: “Where am I?” A local fisherman replied, “You are in Galilee.” Then the Canadian pointed to another side of the bay and asked, “What’s that?” Quickly the answer came back: “If this side is Galilee, that must be Jerusalem.” Since then, the name has been on the state map.

How wonderful it is to find descriptions of life in Jerusalem in many 19th-century newspapers. These citations intrigued me, so I was primed to search for data in actual newspapers, then on microfilm and now on the Internet. In an Illinois paper from 1890, I found that “Jerusalem oranges” were in great demand in Chicago, and probably in other big cities in America. I am not exactly sure what “Jerusalem oranges” were, but they must have had a taste of the eternal.

American newspaper editors used stories in which Jerusalem was included because they knew it was a city in ruins that “only could be revived by the Jews.” In our prayer books, we have prayed daily for centuries for “a return to Jerusalem,” and Evangelical Christians today believe that Jerusalem has to be inhabited by Jews who arrive from all parts of the world in order to ensure that Israel will always be our land.

IN THE March 31, 1903, edition of The Los Angeles Herald, a headline read “Jerusalem Shaken.” The dispatch continued: “An earthquake of unprecedented severity was experienced here this morning. The entire population was panic-stricken, but the damage done was slight. Halleluyah – Jerusalem was rescued.”

In an October 22, 1890, San Francisco paper, something of great importance was noted: “Three American locomotives made in Philadelphia by the Baldwin company arrived in the country to be used on the new line from Jaffa to Jerusalem.” When Mrs. Henry Goldey of Wilmington, Delaware, visited Palestine in 1910, she wrote in her diary, “We boarded the train in Jerusalem. The Baldwin locomotives were fired up and began to move.” In her diary, she notes, “The natives think the trains are like a big lion who starts to growl loudly and then runs away.”

Minister Robert Evans, whose church was the largest and most influential black church in Atlanta, was given a six-month sabbatical to travel to Europe and Palestine. On his return in 1911, his public lectures were advertised in the Atlanta Georgian as being free to all attendees. One ad carried a picture of the minister standing next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, with another of him riding a horse in the Galilee.

On April 8, 1873, a story titled “Jerusalem by Rail” was carried around the world that said, “A railroad to Jerusalem is likely to afford, at no distant date, a new illustration of modern progress. Already the projected railway from Jaffa to Jerusalem, has sent plans to the minister of public works of Turkey, to the pope and to the chiefs of the Greek, Armenian and Jewish faiths, not only in the East but even at Paris and London, further informing them that fifteen hundred tickets for the journey from Jaffa to Jerusalem will annually and graciously be placed at their discretion for use of pilgrims.”

It seems that building a railroad between the two cities was difficult. After all the fanfare, this initial railroad only came to life in 1892.

Unusual connections were noted as well. In 1919, a story titled “Americans Will Play Baseball in Jerusalem” contained the following: “Americans (Jewish Legion personnel) serving with the British Army in Palestine are to introduce baseball in that country and present plans for a number of games in Jerusalem among rival nines from the units of the troops.” A few years later, Dr. Judah Magnes, a superb athlete, convinced professors and students to play baseball in Jerusalem on a diamond he drew on Mount Scopus.

On May 27, 1899, The Daily Alta California newspaper of San Francisco carried this joyous item: “Jerusalem is profoundly sacred to the Jews, and the Jews are beginning to be locally numerous and important.” An American “sanitarian,” Louis Cantor, cleared Jerusalem of mosquitoes – a formidable story carried all across America. By early April 1919, it had been reported that “Jerusalem has been freed from the mosquito pest.” 

A most interesting Jerusalem story appeared in the Athens (Georgia) Banner in March 1891. A few comments help us focus on what such an article meant, aside from the description given by an anonymous traveler to the Holy Land. The story’s headline, “Electric Lights in Jerusalem,” surely caught everyone’s eyes, both in Athens and in the small towns nearby. The traveler reported about “the amazement that has been caused by these lights.” A look at the approach to electricity by Arabs and Jews of the time demonstrates that not everyone was ready for a step forward of this nature. But, as the story suggested, Jerusalem was actually about to change dramatically.

“It now seems that Jerusalem is going to become a city of modern improvement just like the American cities.” Was any other ancient city described in this fashion? Clearly, what the Americans accomplished became a model for Jerusalem.

The end of the story intrigues me the most. The reporter noted that with electricity there will be “prosperity” in the Holy Land. He then concludes by saying that Jews should come from all over the world and participate in this “prosperity.”

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