Yesterday, we observed Yom Yirushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the 45th anniversary of the reunification of the city of Jerusalem. To all of who love the city, it is a day of memories and a day of hope. It is also a day to think about the meaning of that word: “reunification” and the political struggles facing Jerusalem today and in the future. More of that later. For now, I will concentrate just on the love I, like so many, feel for Jerusalem.
I arrived in Israel for the first time in early October, 1979, and spent the next 8 months there during my third year of Rabbinical School. Most of my classmates had been in Israel before but it was the first time for me and while I had my ups and downs during the year, the one aspect of my experience that stands out was getting to know the city of Jerusalem, walking endlessly through the alleys and streets, riding buses just for the sake of seeing new neighborhoods, studying the city’s history and celebrating the fact that I, unlike so many who had come before, was able to visit all parts of the city. It was the perfect time to be in the city and I took full advantage of the opportunities.
I have the letters that I wrote to my parents and friends during that first trip to Israel and what I wrote about Jerusalem was always glowing. In my first letter home (written on one of those old aerogrammes which no one uses anymore), I wrote: “Jerusalem, more than anything, is a city of smells- spices, flowers,- very pretty and very interesting and already I feel at home”. That was only a first impression. From there, I went on to describe in letters and in cassette tapes sent home, my love for this city- for the sunsets, the clouds, the views from so many different places. Each experience, even the mundane shopping trip, seemed to be so uplifting. I never tired of walking through the shuk in the Old City or Machaneh Yehudah, the market of West Jerusalem, trying new foods, striking up conversations with people. I loved to visit synagogues of all kinds, representing so many different ethnic groups. And, most importantly, I loved those rare moments when the city seem to fulfill, like no other place could, the vision of people living together in peace. I spent many hours sitting on a bench near the Western Wall or on the walls of the city itself waiting for that magic moment when the sounds of davening at the kotel, the church bells in the Old City and the muezzin calling from the minaret would blend together in perfect harmony.
Since that trip in 1979, I have changed and Jerusalem has changed. That is the way of the world. More about that later.
But, what has never left me is the sense that this city is the most inspirational, most beautiful, most fascinating place I have ever been in my life. And for now, I want to leave it at this point- remembering the sense of holiness and meaning and spirit that I felt then and in my 12 subsequent visits to Jerusalem.
So many experiences, so many moments of joy and visions of peace, so many smells and tastes and sights that never leave you.
“Rejoice with Jerusalem, all who love her” said the prophet. It is impossible to do otherwise.