It cost American taxpayers one hundred million dollars.
Many of Jerusalem’s 890,000 residents became shut-ins. Ten thousand security personnel mobilized.
Yet, the significance of US President Donald Trump’s visit may be reduced to the placement of one word and one significant gesture. Together, both gave Israel a well-deserved present celebrating 50 years since Jerusalem’s reunification.
The word was “Israel,” placed after the word “Jerusalem,” on some White House-issued press releases.
What should have been a routine act deviated from the longstanding American idiocy of treating Jerusalem as just “Jerusalem,” seemingly a city without a country.
Calling it “Jerusalem, Israel” recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish People’s historic capital. The gesture was a sitting American president finally visiting the Western Wall.
By the time Trump reached Israel, Israelis were nervous.
Besides worrying about the operational details, beyond managing the policy and itinerary spats, the little insecure Jew hiding even inside every native-born Israeli emerged. All presidential visits spotlight American’s grandeur and the dinkiness of this charming, scrappy, idealistic but New Jersey-sized Jewish state.
Israel aflutter was the international equivalent of Sally Field’s 1984 Oscar acceptance speech, when she gushed “you like me, right now, you like me.”
Intensifying the insecurity was Saudi Arabia’s lavish welcome for Trump, fit for a medieval king. Their palaces make Israel’s official buildings look like shacks. Their ceremonies make Israel’s look like Hebrew school plays.
The Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud, oozing exotica with insignia and sashes, makes Israeli gifts look as grand as a plastic dreidel.
The gap is an old story. In the 1960s, the Saudi Arabian king gave Jackie Kennedy magnificent white stallions. Intimidated – by his wife – president John Kennedy called ambassador Angier Biddle Duke, his chief of protocol. “Tell her it’s hurting me politically,” JFK instructed. “The Arabs give her these horses and then Israelis come along with an old Bible worth about $12.” Squirming, ambassador Duke told Mrs. Kennedy.
“I understand what you’re saying, Angie,” she replied, “but... I want the horses.”
On Monday night, the Netanyahus acknowledged the modesty of their freshly-painted official home.
Fortunately, Trump had already delivered his two symbolic gifts, his two giant steps toward normalizing Jerusalem and thus Israel itself.
While failing in their campaign to destroy the Jewish state, the Palestinians have ghettoized Israel, singling it out, preventing the same basic rules from applying to Israel that apply to other states. Other countries choose their own capitals – not Israel. Other countries keep land they win from neighbors in wars of self-defense without being demonized – not Israel. Other countries settle in territories belonging to their historic homeland without being called occupiers – not Israel.
While he has demonstrated the perils of amateur hour in the White House – and Israelis honored the position and thus America, not the person –Trump’s deviation from standard diplomatic farces shows at least one dividend his outrageous originality yields.
A united Jewish people celebrating Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, will reinforce his message legitimizing Jerusalem.
This holiday toasts Israel’s 1967 triumph – resisting aggressive Arab armies seeking the Jews’ destruction.
No Israel supporters should declare we “lost the Six Day War.” Had Israel lost, we would have lost Israel.
Jerusalem Day celebrates Israel’s survival. It celebrates restoring the Jewish people’s heart – Jerusalem’s Old City – to the Jewish body – the Land of Israel. And the day celebrates the victory’s many positive byproducts: from the Zionist inspiration it gave oppressed Russian Jews and assimilated American Jews, to the historic shift the victory triggered whereby much of the world and even many Palestinians started quarreling about settlements and territories – thus implicitly accepting Israel’s existence. Without 1967, our enemies would be demanding Tel Aviv and west Jerusalem, not just Hebron and east Jerusalem. This celebration doesn’t ignore the complexities – we have 364 other days a year to confront them.
The great theologian Rabbi Yitz Greenberg explains that by intruding into the Counting of the Omer, the period between Passover and Shavuot mourning the deaths of Rabbi Akiva’s 24,000 students, Jerusalem Day mystically shifts “another calendar day... from the side of sorrow to the side of joy.” With Independence Day also falling during the Omer mourning, the joys of Israel are redeeming the depressed, oppressed exiled rabbis’ calendar of lamentations: “Step by step, victory by victory,” Greenberg writes in his classic The Jewish Way, “the Jewish people are reversing the tide of Jewish history from mourning to celebration, from death to life.”
Yet, beyond religious Zionists adding the “Hallel” thanksgiving prayer to morning prayers, or Jerusalemites attending some local celebration, Jews lack rituals to mark the day.
Those who wish to celebrate this modern miracle should perform the following ceremony, at home or in a communal setting – boosted by photos and videos from June 7, 1967. Echo Col. Motta Gur, the secular commander whose troops liberated Jerusalem, saying “har habayit beyadeinu,” “the Temple Mount is in our hands” – twice. Bless new experiences as the soldiers did by reciting the traditional “Shehechianu” blessing, adding Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s prayer, “Baruch ata Hashem, Menachem tsion uvoneh Yerushalayim,” “Blessed are You Lord, comforting Zion and building Jerusalem.”
Observe a moment of silence for fallen soldiers. Sing what Rabbi Goren sang: “Le Shana Hazot BeYerushalayim,” “This year in Jerusalem.” Blow the shofar loud and long. Finish by singing “Jerusalem of Gold” and “Hatikva.”
Love him or hate him, America’s president ultimately celebrated Jerusalem Day – shouldn’t we? The writer is the author of The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. His forthcoming book is The Zionist Ideas, whif North American History at McGill University.Follow on Twitter @GilTroy.