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.