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Sunday, May 21, 2017

What is Yom Yerushalayim, and why do we need it?

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What are you up to this week???  Here in Israel, we’re still celebrating.  It’s like one non-stop party at this time of year, which was so bland back when we lived in Canada.  And this time, it’s one of the strangest holidays of all: Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). 

This is it – the Big 5-0, and the city is all geared up with so many different kinds of celebration.  Every school in the country, pretty much, is organizing tiyulim to the Holy City, and the place is mobbed with the usual tourists plus some.

I was there, with my son’s school.  We had a great time, but it was a heartbreaking time as well, and here is why:  Jerusalem is so far from being perfect it’s not funny.  Jerusalem is so far from being perfect that I could cry.

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At the seder each year, we sing, לשנה הבאה בירושלים / leshana haba’ah bi’Yerushalayim – “Next Year in Jerusalem.”  We sing this even if we are lucky enough to be in Jerusalem, because the last word is הבנויה / habnuya – Rebuilt. 

The Jerusalem that we have is a miracle.  It is a beautiful, busy, living, crazy balagan of a city and I love it.   I love the fact that the country just turned 69 years old, and its capital is only 50 – this shows that you can’t take even a capital city for granted here, since we had to do without it for 19 years.

Yes, a miracle indeed. 

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(photo credit: IDF via Wikimedia)

The Jerusalem we have today is truly many things… but it is not yet rebuilt.

This year, we’re celebrating 50 years since the liberation of Jerusalem from Jordanian hands, putting it in Jewish control for the first time in thousands of years.  But walking the streets of Jerusalem, the city does not yet feel free.

Driving past the Damascus Gate (Shaar Shechem), the Palestinian Bus Station, the police standing guard across from Givat Hatachmoshet, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa, the scars, mostly invisible, that have been inflicted on this city and its people since it was liberated… well, these things are more than heartbreaking.  They are like a slap in the face when everybody’s coming to celebrate.

But this is the reality.

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(Mandelbaum gate, pre-1967)

There is a museum on the pre-1967 border between Jerusalem and Jordan, steps from the Mandelbaum Gate which used to demarcate the two.  It has a name I have always enjoyed; the “Museum on the Seam.”  It makes the gap between nations feel like a geological rift instead of the complicated (geo)political/spiritual one that it actually is.  Today, the museum deals with “seam” issues, relations between Jews and Arabs, mostly.

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(Art by Dani Karavan; photo credit Raphie Etgar via Wikimedia)

Which is a nice idea and all – except the museum is STILL on the seam.  The border with Jordan may be gone, and the barbed wire mostly gone, but don’t let anybody tell you this isn’t still a city split in two, a city straddling a massive fault line – right where the museum stands today.

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Just steps from this museum, just steps from the Old City walls where the city is projecting all kinds of amazing sound-and-light shows this week to celebrate its Fiftieth, lest we forget, a British student was added last month to the very long list of those who have given and continue to give their lives for the unity of this city.

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(photo credit: ZAKA)

Even as the city was gearing up to celebrate last week, they were also gearing up for some of the biggest security challenges of the last fifty years, not least because of the impending visit of President Trump.  Last night, as my daughter headed home from a pleasant Shabbos in Beit Shemesh, she couldn’t go home because there was a “chafetz chashud” reported on her street, and they’d had to close off the block for further investigation.

That’s how broken things are there.

That’s the seam, and it’s still there today.

Jerusalem is a city on the seam.  It is a city incomplete, a city as yet unbuilt, which is, of course, why we ask, each and every Pesach, to go there, even if we ARE there, because it doesn’t yet exist.

And yet we’re celebrating still.

Why?

Why celebrate in the midst of brokenness?  Because that’s what Jews have always done.  We celebrate not because what we have is IDEAL but because what we have is VERY GOOD.  What we have is BETTER THAN NOTHING.

We march, we sing, we parade, we daven, with Hallel.  We thank Hashem for brokenness, we praise it, we sing and dance over its unity, even as we weep over this holy city divided.

לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנויה!!!

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Next year – in the rebuilt one, somehow, please, Hashem.  Until then, let’s celebrate what we have.

How are you celebrating Yom Yerushalayim this week???  I really hope you are!

Tzivia / צִיבְיָה


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