“Jerusalem of Gold, and of Light and of Bronze, I am the Lute for all your Songs”
“You’re shaking … so am I. It’s because of Jerusalem, isn’t it?“—Elie Wiesel
Today, the 28th of Iyar marks the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, the Jewish world’s capital.
I was born and raised in Jerusalem—a fourth generation of proud Jerusalemites. City builders and lovers.
Driving daily to our JCC Israel Center offices alongside the ancient sites of Jerusalem is a great privilege, one that piques my curiosity—these ancient sites witnessed miseries and joy, victories and capitulation, holiness and despoilment, greatness and recession. What will these mighty sites reveal to generations to come?
Jerusalem was divided from the War of Independence in 1948 until 1967. The western part of the city was in Israeli hands, and the eastern part was under the control of the Jordanian kingdom. After the eastern part of the city was liberated, the walls dividing the city were torn down and three weeks later the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, enacted legislation unifying the city and extending Israeli sovereignty over the eastern part.
Jerusalem has been considered the capital city of the Jewish people since the time of King David, who conquered and established it as the seat of his monarchy in approximately 1000 B.C.E. In 1980, the Knesset, again asserted Israel’s sovereignty, and passed a law establishing “Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, complete and united, is the capital of Israel and the seat of its main governing bodies” On May 28, 1995, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated: “what was legislated in 1980 transforming Jerusalem into a unified city under Israeli sovereignty, the capital of Israel, the heart of the Jewish people, these are facts that will endure for eternity.”
So, what is so special about Jerusalem’s beauty? What drives Jews for decades across the world to pray facing Jerusalem three times a day, every day, expressing their yearning and hopes? What drew conquerors and tribes to capture this city repeatedly throughout history? What inspired poets to dedicate thousands of songs in all languages to Jerusalem’s glory? What is Jerusalem’s secret?
Jerusalem’s lovers will be dazzled by the city’s golden bright light. Jerusalem’s dreamers will be carried away by layers of history, stories, and fairytales. Jerusalem’s philosophers and thinkers will meditate in light of her spirituality. Jerusalem’s poets and artists will be inspired and mused by the city’s magic, and Jerusalem’s adventurists will find treasures under every ancient stone, weaved within the city’s enchanter past through its fascinating present towards its eternal future.
The city of Jerusalem has more than one hundred different names, but the one name most frequently used is Yerushalayim, which means peace—shalom—or whole—shalem. The only city in the world holy to all three major monotheistic religions, respected by all, offers its ground to their monuments, their symbols. Ancient towers featuring Magen Davids, crosses and crescent moons punctuate Jerusalem’s skyline. These holy sites have stood alongside one another peacefully for centuries. Today, so should we.
Fifty years after the unification of the city, the effort to preserve shalom within Yerushalayim is challenging and frustrating both sides. At times this is a cause for anger, pain, violence and despair.
Jerusalem’s population is 35 percent Arab. Yet Jews and Arabs live in highly segregated environments. We try to live side-by-side. And many beautiful co-existence projects and activities help facilitate this, but our reality is one of tension and frustration.
But today is a festive day. And for just one day, I would like to celebrate with my hometown, our Jewish capital.
For this one day I would like to concentrate on Jerusalem’s beauty, the city’s many attempts to overcome challenges, bridge ever-growing gaps, defeat impossible obstacles. True, tension exists between the city’s different ethnic groups. And while some find it hard to celebrate while the city is in so many ways still divided, Jerusalem was, is and forever will be a magnificent city, a symbol of aspiration for peace and tolerance. For at least one day, our capital deserves festivity, keeping in mind we must strive to bridge the divides.
Through this joyous day, ceremonies and celebrations mark Jerusalem’s landmark. Blue and white flags wave over the streets of the city, welcoming hundreds of thousands of Israelis and guests from across the world honoring our capital, celebrating its holiday.
One of these guests is President Trump accompanied by his family. President Trump is the first American president to visit the Kotel while in office, paying respect to the holiest site for Jews, whispering a prayer for peace, a prayer we all share.
With a renewed and hopeful attempt to revive the peace process, President Trump embarked on a historical flight from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and from there to Tel Aviv—an aerial line never crossed before. Could we be launching a desired new path for peace?
My prayer for Jerusalem in honor of this holiday is that the Kotel, which carries within its crevices our memories, will carry our dreams and hopes, and that these ancient stones that have witnessed pain will rejoice in its embrace all its residents and visitors with acceptance and tolerance, overcoming dispute and hate and spreading Jerusalem’s “nine measures of beauty” upon all those who sing “Jerusalem of gold, and of light and of bronze ” with great pride and love.
Happy anniversary, Jerusalem!
Leah Garber, Vice President, JCC Israel Center
Enjoy Jerusalem @ 50 grand finale with fireworks
Listen to Rabbi Jonathan Henry Sacks, Baron’s special Jerusalem Day video: