Monthly Archives: May 2015

Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem- this Sunday and Always

I have written extensively on this blog and in sermons and articles about my love for the city of Jerusalem- a love I know that I share with so many Jews throughout the world. The love of Jerusalem, of course, is not limited to Jews but our people have had a treasured and close relationship with the city for millennia. While Jerusalem is certainly holy to Christianity and Islam as well and that significance must be honored and respected, the city has stood in a unique way for so many centuries as a focus of our prayers and our hopes.

I had the privilege of living in Jerusalem during Rabbinical School and have returned a dozen times since to walk her streets, pray in her synagogues, breathe her air and rejoice in the ability that previous generations did not: to visit the old city and stand at the Kotel, the Western Wall.

Sunday is Yom Yerushalayim: Jerusalem Day, the newest holiday on our Jewish calendar. It celebrates the anniversary in 1967 of the capturing of the old city and the reuniting of East and West Jerusalem during the six day war. While there are many political questions that arise when thinking about 1967 and about the future of the city, there can be no denying that returning to the old city was a moment of supreme joy for our people. Naomi Shemer’s beautiful song Yerushalayim Shel Zahav captured that joy and this holiday has been a day to celebrate the meaning of that moment and to sing the song with heartfelt emotion.

However, in the past few years, Yom Yerushalayim has turned into a day with a horribly ugly side. A day which used to celebrate the love for the city has turned into a day featuring marches, some through predominantly Arab sections of the city, with participants chanting racist, violent slogans. Vicious chants ridiculing Islam and calling for extermination of Arabs have turned the day into a day of humiliation and fear for Arab residents of the city. This is an absolute tragedy, an abomination, a hillul hashem, a desecration of God’s name. It should never take place on Jerusalem Day or on any day.

This year, cognizant of what has happened in recent years, there are efforts by many organizations and many citizens of Jersualem to turn this day into a day focusing on peace and celebrating both the depth of our spiritual connection with Jerusaelm and our hopes for coexistence. Many are trying to drown out the voices of violence, hatred and bigotry with reminders of what Jerusalem really means to us as a people and what could potentially be with increased cooperation of all her residents and all of those who love her.

I am not naive. I know the situation is different now than it was when I lived in Jerusalem when there was a peace about the city that you could feel. Even then, there were tensions but there was an overriding calm that gave real hope for the future. It may be hard now to think that Jerusalem has a peaceful future with the acts of terror, violence and intimidation which have taken place. Nothing is simple in Jerusalem and just hoping for peace won’t bring it.

But, at the very least, may this one day of Yom Yerushalayim this year reflect the ideals that our people and people of good will everywhere have always associated with the city: peace and the presence of God. May the voices of peace be heard and may all of those who scream for violence and death stop and listen to the voices of hope, the real voices of Jerusalem.

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Stand By Me

This posting is based on the d’var Torah I delivered this past Friday evening.

Today, I read the news of a man whose name will be familiar to some of you. His name was Ben E. King. Ben E. King recorded many songs during the 1960s but the one for which he is most famous is entitled: “Stand By Me”. Stand By Me is one of my favorites: a beautiful and sweet love song in which the singer reminds the one he loves that he will be able to withstand all of the difficulties of life as long as “you stand by me”.

The song’s lyrics include these words:
“If the sky we look upon should tumble and fall and the mountains should crumble to the sea.
I won’t cry, I won’t cry, no I won’t shed a tear just as long as you stand by me.”

I read that these lyrics were actually inspired by two verses in Psalm 46:
“Therefore will we not fear, though the earth changes, and though the mountains be moved into the heart of the seas;” This really does not surprise me for while the song is clearly meant to be sung to another individual, it could easily be seen as being sung to God, a call to feel God’s presence even in difficult times, even through the changes of the natural world. But, to me, this song will always be about the need we all have to feel like the ones we love stand by us when life turns difficult.

In this week’s Torah portion, we read the words: “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy”. This section of Leviticus is often referred to as the “holiness code” and contains instructions for building a holy community. The portion offers many instructions for building that holy community including not to put a stumbling block before the blind and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. But, in addition to all of these instructions, we might add that a holy community is one in which people stand by each other. One of the realities which help us most in times of trouble is knowing that there are others: family and friends who stand with us against the pain of the world.

The song Stand By Me lent its name to a classic movie from 1986. In the movie Stand By Me, four boys, best friends, stand against the world as they spend their last weekend together before entering Junior High School. There is so much to love about this movie but to me the most meaningful part is to see these four boys standing together, overcoming any squabbles they might have to stand with each other against the world which they feel either misunderstands them or rejects them. They formed, in their own way, a kehilla kedosha, a holy community and it guides them in their question during that one weekend.

May we all stand by those around us, supporting, encouraging and comforting when we are needed to do so. And, may we always feel God’s presence standing by us as well.

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