Identity

Jerusalem is the Jewish spiritual, national hotspot

In that spirit, when we sing “Jerusalem of Gold,” some thank God, some praise the IDF, others get Zionist goosebumps, but all rally around Jerusalem.

Tomorrow is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day. Unfortunately, in pre-October 7 Israel, this newest Jewish holiday exacerbated one of our oldest divisions. Zealots, so blinded by national pride that they disrespected others, kept clashing with cosmopolitans so blinded by universalism that they couldn’t recognize their enemies. Today, with so many precious soldiers fighting for unity, no one, left or right, should dare desecrate this holiday. With much of the “civilized world” questioning our rights to our homeland – and our forever-capital – let’s revive Jerusalem Day’s original spirit. Celebrate the Jewish people’s unity – recalling Jerusalem’s reunification during the June 1967 Six Day War. Reaffirm the Jews’ deep roots in our homeland. And honor the too many who sacrificed so much to fight for Jerusalem, make it to Jerusalem, and rebuild Jerusalem, Israel, and the Jewish people.

Making Jerusalem Day “Polarization Day” would be like making Christmas “Grinchfest.” We should appreciate the transcendent power of that moment when Motta Gur, the paratrooper commander – leading reservists! – proclaimed, “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” Jews Left to Right, religious and non-religious, rejoiced – with much of the then-more-civilized world.

In 1968, leading Reform theologian Rabbi Eugene Borowitz recalled “that when Old Jerusalem was captured and was somehow, to use that marvelous word, ‘ours,’ it hit us with an impact which we couldn’t imagine… suddenly we realized the depths of roots we had in a very specific place.” The small, loud group of “liberal” rabbis now rejecting our particular rootedness, meaning Zionism, clearly don’t understand Judaism.

Recalling American Jews’ pre-1967 somnolence, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel quipped that by so taking the Tel Aviv Hilton for granted, we forgot Tel Hai, where the one-armed warrior Josef Trumpeldor lived the Zionist value that, if necessary, it’s good to die for your country. Heschel challenged American Jews to find greater meaning and Jewish identification through Israel, appreciating Zionism as “an ongoing spiritual revolution.”

In that spirit, when we sing “Jerusalem of Gold,” some thank God, some praise the IDF, others get Zionist goosebumps, but all rally around Jerusalem.

This is not some passing infatuation. Jews’ love for Jerusalem began in 1,000 BCE. Everyone, skeptics and believers alike, should visit Ir David, The City of David, glittering with archaeological gems. There you witness the Jews’ millennial-strong ties to this land, mocking the “settler-colonialist” libel.

Walk Pilgrimage Road, the path Jews – including a charismatic rabbi named Jesus – followed to the Temple, especially during the Three Walking/Pilgrimage holidays of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot; the latter begins next Tuesday evening.

I RECENTLY toured Ir David with an educator friend who has seen every major tourist site in Israel, repeatedly. Encountering charred embers, probably from Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 CE, so jazzed him, that he Facetimed his daughter to share the moment. When my kids toured there, you could feel the profound biblical education that Israel’s Religious Zionist world provides and the geographic sense that military service instills as they relived biblical verses, battles, and moments. They learned them in school – and felt them in Ir David, where it happened.

Mastering our story and rejecting our “burn baby burn” enemies honors our many heroes who sacrificed for Jerusalem – then and right now. We’re about “learn people learn!”

Before hitting the City of David excavations and the Western Wall, visit the newly renovated, mind-blowing, soul-stretching Tower of David Jerusalem Museum. Every inch of that citadel breathes old-new, that classically Jerusalem and Zionist dance integrating yesterday with today, while dreaming about better tomorrows.

If you don’t have the few hours this reborn museum, archaeological gold mine, and national treasure deserves, just visit the first gallery. Honoring Yehuda Amichai’s poem, “On the shores of eternity,” traces Jerusalem’s 4,000-year history, creatively and substantively. This fun, technologically sophisticated exhibit divides Jerusalem’s epic story into 12 easily digestible and inspiring parts. Each section pivots around a key artifact, including a 2,600-year-old ancient Hebrew seal – in case you doubted that Jews put the “in” in indigenous and returned to our land. Throughout, interactive animation links Jerusalem’s turning points with world events. The exhibits ends with a letter that Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote in June 1948 about breaking the siege of Jerusalem – because we can never forsake it.

During the $50 million renovation, spearheaded by the Clore Israel Foundation, beneath this exhibit’s massive Crusader Hall, they uncovered Hasmonean – Maccabean – fortifications from 2,300 years ago, now viewed through a glass floor. Solidarity missions, which should devote more time, can also arrange half-hour pre-Kotel (Western Wall) tours just to taste our past in David’s Citadel.

Jerusalem

Apparently, some solidarity missions to Israel are skipping Jerusalem. This Jerusalem Day, may we all vow not to forsake thee, old-new Jerusalem, especially during wartime. We need visits to Jerusalem now, more than ever, renewing our bonds while revitalizing our Zionist narrative.

We’ve learned it all “depends on the context.” Imagine Israel trips highlighting Masada, marking Roman brutality; Yad Vashem, commemorating Nazi mass murder; and the Nova concert site, exposing Hamas’s evil. By the time you visit the Kotel, it becomes the Wailing Wall, another Jewish trauma zone.

Instead, see Jerusalem’s glorious history in David’s Tower. Feel the City of David’s archaeological layers. Then, the Kotel will symbolize Jerusalem’s everlasting appeal and Israel’s rebirth, not just two destroyed Temples.

You will then live Amichai’s poem, experiencing Jerusalem as “a port city on the shore of eternity.” Wandering between these sites, you will see “the commerce and the gates and the golden domes.” And you’ll remember how Jerusalem functions as the Jews’ hotspot, accessing our best national and spiritual selves.

Published by Jerusalem Post