Jerusalem after 40 years

Following our living in the shelter for six days, we came out to a new reality.

Rabbi Einat Ramon 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rabbi Einat Ramon 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Nearly the first eight years of my life were spent in the divided city of Jerusalem. I vividly remember Israel's 19th Independence Day, the song "Jerusalem of Gold," sung first on that day that accompanied and symbolized that entire period for us. I remember the fear before the war, when my father and other men were drafted to the military. I remember my mother and my 70-year-old grandfather preparing the bomb shelter for the expected shelling on west Jerusalem. Following our living in the shelter for six days, we came out to a new reality. On the one hand we heard of our dear ones who did not return from the war. My father's cousin, Uzi Ramon, a father of two young children, was one of them. May his memory and that of the other soldiers and citizens who gave their lives for us be a blessing. On the other hand, one cannot describe the deep, intoxicating feeling of victory, happiness and pride, the new sights and smells that were spread in front of our eyes and the removal of an immediate threat to our very existence. The walls and fences splitting neighborhoods and even some (Arab and intermarried) families suddenly came down after 19 years of separation. A new and united Jerusalem emerged: A Jerusalem that has united us with the places that contain the deepest historical and archeological memories of our Jewish ancestors, places for which we longed, alongside other sites holy for Christians and Muslims. Every Shabbat we flooded the Old City and sites in the West Bank to explore and discover the historical and theological depth of the city and of the Land of Israel that became so crystal clear. It was impossible not to be swept with some exuberance and messianism in 1967. Yet, two wise men immediately saw the danger of the Six Day War and warned us that our victory could potentially be the source of our destruction. They were David Ben-Gurion, a founder of the State of Israel and its first prime minister, and Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, a Zionist Orthodox Jew. Both realized that remaining occupiers of territories that contained more than a million Palestinians would demographically endanger the Jewish nature of the State of Israel, challenge its morality and further complicate the Arab-Israeli conflict. Leibowitz went from school to school, from community to community, to preach his word, exhibiting the loneliness of a prophet in his own city and country. I felt it was a great honor to hear his words and to witness his courage and long-term vision. And yet, today, with the collapse of the Oslo peace process and the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, we must question whether Leibowitz's solution - unilateral withdrawal from all the territories conquered in 1967 - is a wise one. I do not think so. Nevertheless, our inability to offer a long-term solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict is a lingering threat that resides constantly in our consciousness. East Jerusalem is tormented by poverty, Kafkaesque bureaucracy, house demolitions, etc. West Jerusalem is tormented by the fear of getting on a bus, walking into a mall or a caf where there might at any moment be a suicide bomber. What hope is there for the Jerusalem, the City of Peace that serves as the litmus test for the stability of the world? One outcome of the Six Day War was Labor Zionist secular Jews' gradual return to Jewish religious thought. In my own search for a non-messianic halachic movement, I found myself aligning with the Conservative-Masorti worldview. What attracted me within that particular perspective was the willingness to seriously consider both sides of a debate, strive for a better future, minimize injustice and take political risks when good opportunities come up. Yet, like our sages, I act with humility when it comes to complicated problems. This is the path I wish to transmit to my children, a fifth generation of Jerusalemites, who will like us have to weave the past with the future so near to the the awesome Holy of Holies. The writer is dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary.