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Jerusalem: A City United, A City Divided

Jerusalem: A City United, A City Divided

Israeli flag in front of Jerusalem stone at the Kotel

"Our feet stood inside your gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem built up, a city knit together." (Psalms 122)

There are few cities in the world that have their own special day. I’ve never heard of Paris Day or Rome Day, certainly not Chicago or Boston or Los Angeles Day. Yet, this Sunday we will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day.

This holiday was first proclaimed on 28th of Iyar, 1968, the Hebrew date on which the divided city of Jerusalem became one. The theme of the holiday is that the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967 accurately reflected the sentiment expressed in Psalms, "Jerusalem built up, a city knit together.” And yet, knitted into this tapestry alongside such proud accomplishments are serious remaining challenges.

There is the Jerusalem on high and the Jerusalem of below.

The Jerusalem of Old and of New.

The Jerusalem of West and of East.

The Jerusalem of Gold and of Iron.   

There is the Jerusalem of development and the Jerusalem of poverty and of slums.

There is the Jerusalem of thoughtful celebration and the Jerusalem of aggressive and intimidating marches through the Christian and Muslim quarters of the Old City.

There is the Jerusalem that embraces all religious expression, with towering church spires, domed mosques and five flourishing Reform congregations across the Holy City. Yet there is also the Jerusalem of religious intolerance and rejection.

As Simon Sebag Montefiore says in his book, Jerusalem,

“Jerusalem is the home of one God, the capital of two peoples, the temple of three religions and she is the only city to exist twice—in heaven and on earth: the peerless grace of the terrestrial is as nothing to the glories of the celestial.”

Much ink has been spilled over this city addressing these issues, in prayers and articles and poetry. Two new books on the scene in time for Yom Yerushalayim lend new perspectives and allow readers to better understand this city that is at once both laudatory and difficult, inspiring and testing.

Sarah Tuttle-Singer’s Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered leaves no stone unturned in Jerusalem’s Old City, uncovering painful moments along with beautiful inspiring tales only found in that ancient square kilometer.

Amit Pony-Kronish, sheds light on a different Jerusalem in his new book, A Different Jerusalem – Thoughts about a City (only in Hebrew) where, as a native Jerusalemite and activist he discusses the complexities of city administration, immigration, and urban planning.

No doubt this year the U.S. Embassy moving to Jerusalem will add to the complexities of this city. Pomp and circumstance will accompany diplomacy and rhetoric about our undivided capital in one of the most divided cities in the world.

To be clear, Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish State. The Embassy should be there. Jerusalem could also be the capital of the future Palestinian state, and if you’ve ever been to the site of the U.S. Consulate-soon-to-be-Embassy, you will notice that it is one of the rare places in the universe where Israelis and Palestinians hold equal stature on security, are equally armed and work together. Who knows?  Maybe the Embassy’s move there will lead to more such cooperation?

Here’s to dreaming…

Rabbi Josh Weinberg is the Union for Reform Judaism’s vice president for Israel and Reform Zionism and the executive director of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America.

Rabbi Josh Weinberg
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