This Thursday (May 18, 2023) is Jerusalem Day, also known as Yom Yerushalayim, a national Israeli holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City after the 1967 Six-Day War.
Jerusalem is a singularly wondrous place for Jews, but also for Christians and Muslims around the world. Despite its so-called “unification,” Jerusalem remains a divided city straddling uneasily the fault lines between ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews and secular-non-Orthodox Jews, and between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs.
That holy piece of real estate, sacred to three great religions, is among the most dysfunctional cities in the world. Its ancient Wall, its Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and its iconic Golden Dome lift billions of the faithful towards a vision of a heavenly Jerusalem.
For Jews, it is a place where prophets preached, psalmists sang praises, mystics sought oneness with divinity, sages taught wisdom from ancient texts, tribes and nations battled for control. This complex ancient and modern city nestled between valleys sparks the imagination, passions, and yearnings of Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, and so the threatening march of hundreds of extremist settler Jews carrying flags through Arab neighborhoods in the Muslim Quarter on Jerusalem Day every year is fraught with potential violence.
History ought to be a warning of what can happen if events and passions aren’t held in check and respect for the “other” fails to unite religions of the west. In its 4000-year life, this co-called “City of Peace” has rarely known peace. It has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice.
Often in my visits to the city I climbed to the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to see the sweep of the landscape, and I marvel every time that one can see so much in a glance – Old City Streets – Jewish, Christian, Armenian, and Muslim Quarters – the ancient Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery – medieval Churches – the Temple Mount and Noble Sanctuary – the Western Wall, Dome of the Rock, and Southern-Most Mosque – Mount Scopus and the Hebrew University – a plethora of embassies and the Intercontinental Hotel – the City of David and the Palestinian village of Silwan – the sloping convergence of the Valley of Hinnom and the Valley of Kidron – the Security Fence – West and East Jerusalem – and the Seam Line.
I love this ancient-modern place. One thousand years ago, the Spanish poet, philosopher, and thinker Yehudah Halevi spoke words that resonate with me here in California where I was born, raised, and have lived for most of my life: “My heart is in the east and I am at the far reaches of the west.”
This past week a new volume was published called What Jerusalem Means to Us – Jewish Perspectives and Reflections. The publisher describes the book as “address[ing] the intimate and unique connections among Jews, Judaism and Jerusalem along a variety of dimensions – religious, spiritual, historical, cultural, political, psychological, and social. These are manifested through the perspectives and reflections of sixteen Jewish leaders representing different backgrounds. The resultant essays present a rich array of personal and professional transformations, extraordinary love and hope for Jerusalem as well as an honest appraisal of some of the challenges of daily living.”
The book is a publication of The Jerusalem Peace Institute and is edited by the Jerusalem-born Saliba Sarsar, Professor of Political Science at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey, and Carole Monica C. Burnett, Secretary of the Jerusalem Peace Institute the mission of which is to “highlight Jerusalem as humanity’s shared gift … and cherished by three faiths, and its centrality for a just peace through advocacy, programs, activities, interdisciplinary research, and publications.” It is the final book of a trilogy, the first two being reflections by Christians and Muslims of Jerusalem.
I am one of the 16 Jewish contributors in this newest volume, and this past week as I read my fellow contributors’ pieces, I was inspired by their perceptions and experiences, each different from the other, a kaleidoscope of insights based in love for this remarkable and uniquely sacred place on earth.
I recommend the book to you. It is available on Amazon.