by Rabbi Toba Spitzer, Rabbinic
This week, many in Israel and in the Jewish community
celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day. The
28th of Iyyar (May 16th this year) commemorates that
day in June 1967 when Israeli forces re-unified the city of
Jerusalem, winning the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan,
and ushering in the now 40-year-long occupation of those
The word Yerushalayim comes from the Hebrew for
"city," "ir", and the root "s.l.m.", from
which both "shalom" (peace) and "shalem"
(whole) derive -- thus, Jerusalem is conceived of as a city of
peace, and of wholeness.
It is therefore a painful irony that Jerusalem's modern
history has been marked by war and division. The first
such division was created with the founding of Israel, when the
city was cut in half between the new Jewish state and the nation
of Jordan. With the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, to the
joy of many the city was reunified, making the holy site of the
ancient Temple once again accessible to Jews.
Yet at that moment of reunification, a new division had been
introduced to Jerusalem and to the Jewish nation, one which
would only emerge in all its force over the next four decades:
the division between Israelis and Palestinians, between occupier
and occupied, between those who live as full citizens of Israel
and those in the limbo of statelessness, under military
How sad, then, that as we mark the reunification of
Jerusalem, we also have to acknowledge yet another new division
in the city: the separation wall, built in an attempt to contain
the hatred, violence, and despair that has festered and grown
since June 1967.
The barrier that runs through East Jerusalem as it winds its
way through the West Bank--keeping suicide bombers out of
Israel, but also dividing Palestinian villages in half, here a
fence, there a 25-foot concrete wall--is the physical marker of
the profound division between Israeli and Palestinian societies.
On the Israeli side, it has brought a measure of calm, although
not complete peace; on the Palestinian side, it has created a
ghetto, with all the desperation and suffering that
Perhaps, as we mark 40 years of occupation, 40 years of
unified and re-divided Jerusalem, we can reflect on what it
might take to move beyond the physical symbols of unification
and division, to be able to celebrate Jerusalem as a city of
wholeness once again. Let us make Yom
Yerushalayim an opportunity to dedicate ourselves to the
work of building a City of Peace: a city where all inhabitants
can live secure, full lives, where the walls of hatred and
mistrust have been eradicated, and where not only streets and
buildings, but hearts and minds, can be brought into wholeness
Suggestions for Yom
- Hold a discussion in your synagogue, or with your friends
and family. Who has been to Jerusalem? What did you
see in West Jerusalem? In East Jerusalem? Did anyone
travel there before 1967? Shortly after 1967? What changes
have you seen over time? For more information about
the present situation in Jerusalem see the website
of Ir Amim or read the Jerusalem Special
Report developed by the Foundation for Middle East
- Read and hold a discussion group about the book, Jerusalem: One City, Three
Faiths by Karen Armstrong or Separate and Unequal, The Inside
Story of Israeli Rule in East Jerusalem by Amir S.
Chesin, Bill Hutman and Avi Melamed.
- If you have children, take the opportunity to discuss what
Jerusalem means to you and why. Why does a place that is so far
away from us matter to Jewish people everywhere? What do they
think about the fact that Jerusalem is deeply important to other
people as well? Depending on their age, draw pictures of the
city, or study maps, discussing the various religious claims on
the city. How would they solve the problem?
- Research different religious claims to Jerusalem:
What is the significance of
Jerusalem to Jews?
What is the significance of
Jerusalem to Muslims?
What is the significance of
Jerusalem to Christians?
What are some solutions for the
political and religious disputes over
What does the Geneva Accord
propose to address Jerusalem in a two-state solution in Article
Do ancient connections (historical or mythic)
validate a modern claim?
- Read recent articles about Jerusalem:
"Itzik criticized for inviting
envoys to anniversary of J'lem reunification," by
Barak Ravid and Shachar Ilan, Haaretz, May 14,
"A commission of inquiry on
Jerusalem," by Nadav Shragai , Haaretz, May
"Jerusalem loses 6,000 residents
per year," Ynetnews.com, May 14,
"Jerusalem is the 'easiest' issue
to solve, says Amos Oz," by Tovah Lazaroff, The
Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2007
"Israeli Riddle: Love Jerusalem,
Hate Living There," by Greg Myre, New York
Times, May 13, 2007
If you have additional suggestions, please send them to
Rabbi John Friedman, chair of Brit Tzedek's Rabbinic Cabinet at
Rabbi Toba Spitzer was
recently elected national President of the Reconstructionist
Rabbinical Association. She serves as the rabbi of Congregation
Dorshei Tzedek in Newton, MA. Rabbi Spitzer has worked with
nonprofit organizations devoted to issues of peace and justice
and has long been involved in the struggle for peace in the
Middle East. She has a particular interest in Jewish approaches
to economic justice and the mindful use of money in daily life.
An experienced Reconstructionist educator, Rabbi Spitzer has
written innovative curricula on the Book of Exodus and on the
Reconstructionist prayerbook Kol Haneshama. Rabbi Spitzer also
composes liturgical and choral.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance
for Justice and Peace
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Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
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