Next year in Jerusalem

We often criticize our city but forget how far it has come since 1948.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
I shall take you out - referring to the passage from slavery to freedom. I shall save you - saving our lives, in the past and in the present, in a given specific time, which means you're saved, but danger is still around. I shall redeem you - a dramatic change will occur, that will, later on, eventually lead to a plain redemption I will take you - then will come the time of knowledge, which is the only way to reach full salvation. - The four expressions of redemption in the Pessah Seder. When we recount the story of Pessah on Seder night, one of the first questions that springs to mind is why did God need to use four different ways of saving the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt? Surely there was a quicker way. As usual, in Jewish thought there are many answers to that question, but the most accepted is that you cannot expect people who were slaves for centuries to become a free people overnight. Human perception differs from God's, and we need time to adapt; redemption is an evolutionary process. The four expressions of redemption are the basis for three major features of the Pessah Seder: the four sons, the four cups of wine and the four questions. Perhaps it is also connected to the month of Nisan, in which starts the first of the four seasons, and also, one of the four new years in the Jewish calendar. But enough theory: Let's test the formula and see how it applies to our holy city. And I shall take you out How many ways are there to bring full salvation to Jerusalem and its people? Probably plenty, but let's stick to our list. Jerusalem was taken out of foreign hands (Jordanian) that prevailed until June 1967. The paratroopers freed the Old City - the heart of Jerusalem - and laid the foundations for a new era. There were no more separation walls and no more snipers from the Arab Legion targeting young children playing in the narrow streets of Musrara. Before those days, Jerusalem was a small, poor, mostly religious and provincial town surrounded with a border on three sides. In some of his poems, Jerusalemite Yehuda Amichai described the city as small, peaceful and intimate. Years later, many longed for the lost small town that was so different from the rest of the country. In his book My Michael, Amos Oz described the endeavors of Hannah and her Michael on the stairs of Terra Sancta, which served the Hebrew University until the alternative site was built in Givat Ram. Soon afterward, it was A.B. Yehoshua who described the special secular part of the city in his novel Three Days and a Child, which later became a successful movie. Another local author, Dan Benaya Seri, then still a simple postal employee, described the other part of the city - the poor, religious Mizrahim of Beit Yisrael and its surrounds. Student life was joyous, with its coffee house culture. But for thousands of others, local and from outside the city, Jerusalem was calm all this time - too calm: a divided city, with a bleeding wound in its heart. Painful stories were told of the refugees from the Jewish Quarter, who had also to deal with with the aftermath of a harsh captivity in Jordan at the end of the War of Independence. The walls that divided the city added even more to the centuries-old longings of Jews around the world to return to Jerusalem. Those were the days when climbing the narrow stairs to King David's tomb at Zion Gate, trying to catch a glimpse of the Old City and the Western Wall, was the closest thing to realizing a dream. And then it came. First the shelling, which caused casualties and some panic, and then, suddenly, the silence. And then the word spread, like a huge sigh, like a huge tsunami of joy: The Old City is free; the Temple Mount is in our hands! For many Jerusalemites, nothing, not even the fear of the last snipers or mines, could stop them - within a few hours the walls, especially opposite the municipality building (still not Kikar Safra) and below Yemin Moshe and Musrara, were reduced to rubble. Hundreds and hundreds of people, men, women, old people with kids in their arms, with tears of joy, joined with exhausted soldiers, all moving toward the Western Wall, most of them still remembering, after 19 years of separation, their way. In those first encounters, there was more than one moving scene of old neighbors - Arabs and Jews - meeting and hugging again once the walls were down. A few days of ecstasy swept the country. Then someone emerged and took things in hands: Teddy Kollek, the relatively new mayor of Jerusalem, was apparently one of the few to realize the meaning of the results of the Six Day War for his city, and immediately formed a team of municipal employees to work on some practical solutions. "When immediately after the war we came to ask him what to do," recalls Dr. Israel Kimhi, a former high-ranking municipal employee and now a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, "his instructions were clear and simple: He told us to recreate the continuity between the two parts of the city, and it was rather simple, since it was previously one city. All the infrastructure was there, the roads, the sewerage - everything. Some of us were there before the city was divided in two, and we always believed that one day the separation walls would come down. So we just reconnected everything." And I shall save you From 2001 to 2003, the streets of Jerusalem were almost empty. There were terror attacks at the central bus station, the Mahaneh Yehuda market, the corner of King George Avenue and Jaffa Road, Kikar Zion. The feeling was that nothing could save the city: no one came here, and the citizens who didn't leave closed themselves in their homes. If you were not absolutely obligated to go downtown, you just didn't go there. There was a feeling of ending: the end of an era, the end of a dream, the end of life. The city was bleeding - literally, with the highest number of terror attacks in the country. There were no tourists, no visitors, not even the residents could be seen in the streets. People in the buses had a haunted look in their eyes, not sure they would reach their destination. The most famous joke - these were the great days of black humor - was "in how many pieces will you get back home." But we were saved. The days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months and then 2004 arrived, and we all realized that something was changing: Life was back on the streets of Jerusalem. True, terrorism hasn't ended completely, and even now some of us are still never really serene. Too many parents still refuse to send their kids to school by bus, and the security guards at the entrance of every coffee shop or office are here to stay. But take a look at the corner of King George and Jaffa - it's full of people. Restaurants and bars and theaters and outdoor events have once again become part of our daily life. True, we all still remember the the soldiers on our streets, the terrible look on on former Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy's face while he helped to evacuate dead and wounded after one of the worst terror attacks (ending with a heart attack himself), and we still listen carefully whenever we hear an ambulance. But we were saved. Saved from total annihilation, total horror, total disaster. And during all those days, Jerusalem - the people, the administration, the industry, the hi-tech and even the culture and arts - never surrendered. When mayor Ehud Olmert decided, against all odds, to open the first Hutzot Ha'ir in the city center less than two days after a terror attack, the blitz of London seemed the most natural comparison to many: to keep on with life, business as usual. And I shall redeem you Like any redemption process, ours begins with tremendous disorder: roads torn up, sidewalks transformed into huge construction sites and changes in the traffic patterns, not always well announced. Bus routes change every two days and, above all the unavoidable, unbearable traffic jams. A journey that should take 10 minutes now takes up to 35, and we're talking about good days. Two drops of rain and the whole system of traffic lights collapses, and as soon as policemen start directing traffic, things usually go from bad to worse. The signs announcing road work, especially for the light railway, are awful. To those responsible at Kikar Safra and the light rail project, things look - unsurprisingly - totally different. For them, the vision of the future has turned into an almost palpable reality, one that only we cannot see. True, based on the plans, life will be beautiful in... two? three? four years? Maybe more? But didn't we already agree that this takes time? Eventually Jaffa Road will make Oxford Street look like a slum. Visitors arriving in the city - hopefully without the traffic jams they face today - will be welcomed by the Calatrava Bridge. At the other end of Jaffa Road, a beautiful plaza will lead up to the Jaffa Gate. The sky seems to be the limit. Mayor Uri Lupolianski and his director-general, Eitan Meir, are convinced that nothing will ever be the same, in the best sense. Lupolianski, who considers that he has a share in the embellishment of the city, admitted recently that "my part is modest, I believe it is first and foremost with the help of God." Meir says the city center will become the magnet of the whole city, as it should be. The vision is an equilibrium between business/entertainment and housing. Of course the light railway will be the major catalyst for this vision. It will improve everything - the look, the quality, the development. So Jerusalem is on its way to being redeemed: Conditions for students have improved with the new dorms opened in French Hill last year and a new activity center just opened in the Clal Center; more money is being spent on cleaning (more then NIS 50 million in 2007 up from NIS 10m. in 2003); sports equipment has been added in public gardens all over the city; and a special program of tours has been implemented for kids who live in the city. This week the city's economic rehabilitation program ends - 1,000 fewer employees and NIS 180 million added by the government to the municipal coffers. And there is more: Jerusalem is considered a microcosm of Israeli society. Nowhere else can one meet such variety of communities and activities: NGOs, charities, a renaissance of Judaism and Jewish culture and music, a place of unexpected encounters and separate worlds which meet only here. There are religious and secular people, left-wingers and right-wingers, dreamers and realists, artists and merchants, locals and foreigners. Jerusalem, the best location for redemption. And I shall take you Knowledge is the key, according to the sages and Jewish tradition. Knowledge is an intimate situation, when one is able to absorb the truth into himself, thus becoming "knowing." True, the Kotzker Rebbe teaches us that "yosif da'at, yosif machov," by knowing much, one also suffers much. When Adam and Eve decided they needed "knowledge," the result was pain they never experienced before. But since that time, knowledge is considered a major key for the really important issues of our life. Peace, the ultimate goal of mankind, is to be reached once we really understand things and see them in a different way. But peace hasn't come yet. Not only peace between us and our neighbors, but even peace among ourselves. We cheat, disdain, dislike and even hate too much, and we do not let any kind of knowledge enter our little egoistic lives. The "other" is too often still the one we do not want besides us, the one we do not want to share anything with. But perhaps Jerusalem, which has seen more, can take more - nothing can compare to the vitality one can find here. Meir Panim, together with many other charitable foundations and soup kitchens, is a model of hessed (goodwill). Ma'aglei Tzedek works for justice, and helps us remember that we should fight for the rights of others. There are Bizchut for the disabled, Shekel for those who have no strength, and so many more. Those are the places where people who otherwise would never know of each other's existence come together, strive and struggle together, knowing they can make a difference. And in Jerusalem, the place that peace has avoided for so long, there are people who will never stop trying to make things better, who will always try to know more to achieve peace. Among them is the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, which recently issued a collection of proposed solutions for the future of the city. Many options, many different solutions, one love of Jerusalem. So when will Jerusalem's redemption be completed? According to a midrash, the name of the city recalls two righteous men, Abraham and Melchizedek, the king of Shalem. When on his way to sacrifice his son Isaac, Abraham said, according to the midrash, "To the place God will show me" (yira, meaning both to show and to fear) and that was the name Abraham chose for the future Temple. God did not want to choose between the two righteous men, so he decided to name the city after both of them. The king of Shalem, although not a Jew, symbolizes social justice and honesty (as opposed to the people of Sodom), and Abraham represents fear and respect of God. Thus Jerusalem will be rebuilt only when it gathers those two aspects, and become again a place of respect and fear of God and a place of truth and justice among mankind. That will be the time of redemption, when nothing will ever be destroyed again in Jerusalem.