My wife and I are in Jerusalem for some very important events. Our grandson’s brit will be at the Western Wall on Tuesday, God willing, the same day as my father’s second yahrzeit. My father is buried on the Mount of Olives, and it’s a great joy to be in Jerusalem for a family celebration and not just a terrible loss.
Then there is the proud moment of our second son, Yosef, becoming an IDF soldier, our third child to serve in Israel’s military.
Lastly, I have events with Israeli luminaries, including a public discussion on antisemitism with Jewish and Israeli global humanitarian Natan Sharansky and former ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, my former student president at Oxford University.
A Catholic friend of ours who is visiting Israel for the first time asked our family to walk her to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Having authored Kosher Jesus, I have taken many non-Jewish friends to the Christian holy site. But on this occasion, everyone warned us that we would be risking our lives just to walk even one minute in to the Muslim Quarter.
My Christian friend was amazed. “Are you really telling me that Jews have to be afraid to walk through their capital city, Jerusalem?”
“Are you really telling me that Jews have to be afraid to walk through their capital city, Jerusalem?”Shmuley Boteach's Christian friend
In the innocence of her question, the absurdity of it all struck me. Yes, Jews are terrified to walk the streets of old Jerusalem. It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic.
In the end, we did the walk, all the while being stared down by young Palestinian shopkeepers who seemed as shocked to see us as we were to witness their unfriendly gazes. Luckily, our walk went off without incident.
But the warnings of Jerusalem locals kept on coming. “Don’t walk to the Kotel through the Muslim shuk on Shabbat.” Since there are essentially only two ways to walk, the Muslim shuk and the old Jewish Quarter, it seems crazy that Israel could not guarantee the protection of Jewish pilgrims who were walking for about 10 minutes through the Muslim market to Judaism’s holiest site. Is that what we’ve come to?
Then there were the Jerusalem Day celebrations in the Old City and the march to the Western Wall. I have attended many Jerusalem Day parades in the Holy City. None were as inspiring, uplifting and unforgettable as this year’s event. It was an extravaganza of Jewish patriotism and love of our eternal and ancient capital. Yet scores of Israeli friends of ours, as well as American tourist friends who were visiting, refused to march to the Western Wall with Israeli flags for fear that they would be targeted for murder.
First, I was told that Hamas had promised to fire a barrage of rockets on Jerusalem at exactly 4 p.m. if the march would proceed. The security guards even told us that at 4 p.m. they might instruct us to jump to the ground and shield our heads with our arms if rockets began falling on us. Then we were told that as we marched through the Arab quarter, at any moment an assailant could jump at us and stab us without notice. Be extremely careful and be on the lookout.
Suffice it so say that, aside from some shouting that I witnessed between a Jewish marcher and an Arab onlooker, our parade went on without incident.
SO LET me make a simple point.
A simple point
As a Jew who loves and reveres Israel, I would be disgusted and aghast if there were any areas of Israel where an Arab had to fear for his or her life to walk through a Jewish neighborhood. To the extent that any such area even exists – and it doesn’t – I would speak out with all my might against such a travesty of Jewish law and values.
But the same applies to Arab areas where Jews have to fear being murdered for simply walking.
For all those international onlookers who condemn the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations with their march to the Western Wall, commemorating the reunification of the Holy City in 1967, are you really arguing that Jews should not have the right to walk in the capital city of Jerusalem? Would you have stopped a Black Lives Matter march through white neighborhoods of Washington, DC, because it might have riled up the Caucasian population? Would you really practice the soft bigotry of low expectations by arguing that our Arab brothers and sisters are simply incapable of suppressing a desire to stab Jews who walk through their neighborhoods?
And what is the true offense of a parade? That those who march carry the Israeli flag? Seriously?
All of these disgusting arguments that would prevent Jews from celebrating their attachment to Jerusalem just one day a year are in reality nothing but obfuscation of an ugly and unacceptable fact: that Jews are terrified to walk the streets of Jerusalem.
My father, as I noted above, is buried on the Mount of Olives, Judaism’s holiest cemetery and the place from which, so the legend goes, the resurrection of the dead will begin in the epoch of the Messiah. I will, of course, say kaddish at my father’s grave on his yahrzeit.
But guess what? I’ve been warned by countless people that I must not visit my father’s grave, which is only about a 15-minute walk from the Western Wall, without ample security. What’s more is that my father is buried only about 100 yards (90 meters) from the graves of prime minister Menachem Begin and the adapter of the modern Israeli vocabulary, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.
So just imagine. Even if I were not visiting my father’s grave on Judaism’s most hallowed burial grounds, I would still have to shudder to visit the graves of two of Israel’s most distinguished modern founders.
SO LET’S sum up.
For Jews to walk to the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, they have to fear for their lives. To visit the graves of their parents, grandparents, and Israel’s founders, they have to hire private, armed security guards. To walk the 10 minutes from the Damascus Gate to the Western Wall, they need hundreds of soldiers and Israeli police officers, lest they be stabbed to death. And to walk down to the Shiloah Spring and the great historical monuments of the Silwan valley, where I used to walk as a yeshiva student 35 years ago without incident, they have to tremble and expect the likelihood of their own demise.
When I was in yeshiva in New York as a teenager, people were afraid to walk through Central Park in Manhattan at night. Successive mayors got the message that if the richest city on earth cannot protect its citizens from taking a nice stroll through America’s most famous park on a warm summer eve, then there is something deeply rotten in Gotham that would eventually destroy the city’s name and quality of living. Today, you can soak in all the splendor and beauty of Central Park without fear.
Jerusalem should be no different. No citizen, no tourist, no Jew, and no Arab should ever have to fear walking any neighborhood of the world’s holiest city.
The writer, whom The Washington Post describes as “the most famous rabbi in America,” served as Oprah Winfrey’s relationships expert on Oprah and Friends and is the international best-selling author of 36 books, including the upcoming Good Mourning: Finding Purpose in Loss, Sorrow, and Grief. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @RabbiShmuley.