Reconciling ourselves to Jerusalem's reality

The heavenly Zion had no traffic jams, no quarreling political factions, no taxes to pay and spotless streets.

jlem carcrash 298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
jlem carcrash 298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War. While it was a festive day in almost all of Jerusalem, it was less marked in other communities in Israel and in the Diaspora. Post-Zionism and the leftist media have taken away all of the joy, enthusiasm and wonder of living in a Jewish state and certainly the excitement and historic meaning of living in the Holy City of Jerusalem. The city whose name alone inspired Jews over the ages to keep the dream alive, the city that represented the glorious past and even more glorious future of Israel has in the eyes of many now become only a place on the map; the equivalent of Cairo or Bangkok, at most. It is now a city of property to be negotiated over, a piece of some non-existent fatuous fantasy peace plan with foes who mock our ineptitude and naivete. It is to me no exaggeration to say that as Jerusalem goes, so does the fate of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel. The concept of Jerusalem of Gold has given way to the harsh realities of unbearable traffic jams, crowded neighborhoods and an uneasy relationship with our Arab citizens of Jerusalem. Though these Arabs loudly proclaim their dislike of "occupation," apparently few, if any, are willing to give up their Israeli right to live in the city and join their brothers in the paradise of the Palestinian Authority across the cursed security barrier. All in all, therefore, one can feel a bit discouraged about Jerusalem and its present status if one concentrates on only the present and its realities and problems. BUT JERUSALEM was always more than the present and realities. It is the city "that binds all together." It is above time and space. It is King David and Isaiah and Rav Shmuel Salant and Rav Aryeh Levin. It is the Temple Mount and the City of David, of Mount of Olives and Ammunition Hill. It is a place of mystery and history, of inspiration and destiny. It cannot be measured in ordinary terms because it floats above the ordinary nature of its realities. It represents the whole of the Jewish story, what has already occurred to us as a people and what is yet to occur. It cannot be captured in marches, flags, parades, salutes, though these are undoubtedly necessary means to strengthen our will. It is a dream, an ideal, a vision of what will yet be. And therefore it is so difficult to reconcile it with its present realities. The greatness of Torah and Jewish observances was its uncanny ability to take lofty, almost ephemeral ideas and translate them into practical human behavior. For example, the concept of charity and goodness to others, certainly an abstraction, is defined and translated in the Shulhan Aruch or Code of Jewish Law into detailed instructions of behavior and action. Jerusalem, however, has no such guidebook and set of instructions. The people themselves have to create the Jerusalem of Gold in their hearts and minds and souls. Thus Jerusalem itself becomes a testing place and sounding board for our own spiritual abilities and maturity. If we only see the physical Jerusalem that surrounds us and not the eternal Holy City that it truly is, then we have failed the test of our own spiritual nature. IN JEWISH thought there is a concept of yerushalayim shel ma'ala - the perfect holy Jerusalem that exists metaphorically in heaven, hovering over our earthly Jerusalem of this mundane world. It was the concept of the heavenly Jerusalem that kept Jews alive and hopeful in the long dark night of our exile and our separation from the Land of Israel. The heavenly Jerusalem had no traffic jams, no quarreling political factions, no real estate taxes to pay and spotless streets. Our earthly Jerusalem does not quite fit that template. But the task of Jews here, as always and everywhere, is to raise the earthly Jerusalem so that it at least resembles the heavenly Jerusalem. It may be an unrealizable goal in its entirety, but it should remain a goal nevertheless. As long as the heavenly Jerusalem is present before us and influences our lives, decisions and aspirations, the earthly Jerusalem is not merely a geographical place. To have this attitude of purpose and vision allows one to walk the streets of Jerusalem today and have Hillel and Rabbi Akiva as one's companions on that walk. In such company, the stones of Jerusalem are transformed into the Jerusalem of Gold. The writer is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator.