Jerusalem Day (JERUSALEM POST EDITORIAL) 05/20/12)
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How many cities can be said to embody an idea? Athens, the cradle of
the Western tradition of scientific inquiry, comes to mind. So does
Rome, the seat of humanity’s most far-flung empire, instrumental in
disseminating both Greek culture and Christianity.
legacies have been tainted by recent history – Vienna
and Berlin, for instance. Others – Nagasaki, Guernica, Dresden – are
known primarily as the site of horrible battles. African or Far East
cities such as Timbuktu, known for its gold, slave trade and the
Great Mosques of Djenne, or Qufu, the location of the Temple of
Confucius, seem too exotic and inaccessible to be truly relevant to
the Westerner. And American cities are, as writer Cynthia Ozick put
it, places “where time has not yet deigned to be an
In contrast, Jerusalem, quoting Ozick again, is
a “phoenix city” with
a “history of histories” where “no one is a stranger.”
to Jewish tradition, Abraham nearly sacrificed his son
Isaac in Jerusalem. Seven hundred years later – around 1000 BCE –
King David turned the city into the capital of a united Jewish state
and his son Solomon built the First Temple there. Jerusalem has been
sacked and razed and rebuilt and destroyed yet again for dozens of
centuries. Assyrians, Babylonians, Seleucids and Romans have come and
gone. In the past millennium, Muslims and Christians – each with
their own ideas about Jerusalem’s meaning – have killed each other
for the right to rule the city.
Since the destruction of the
Second Temple, Jews yearned to return to
Jerusalem. They prayed for the rebuilding of the Temple and the
ingathering of the exiles. A built Jerusalem was conceived not
principally as a physical place so much as an ideal, a symbol of
Jewish resurgence preceding the Messianic era.
But Jerusalem was
never so completely spiritualized that it became
nothing more than a metaphor. Jews never lost sight of yerushalayim
shel mata – the earthly, material Jerusalem of bricks and concrete.
Except for exceptional periods in history there has been an unbroken
Jewish presence in Jerusalem throughout the long years of exile. This
ember of hope that one day the city of Jerusalem like the
mythological phoenix would one day rise up helped fuel the Jewish
In the 1930s the Jewish population in
Jerusalem exceeded 50,000. By
1948 it had doubled. And 19 years later in 1967 it had nearly doubled
again to 295,000.
But it was not until the reunification of
Jerusalem 45 years ago
today, on the 28th of Iyar, that the city truly began to flourish. No
longer shackled by oppressive Jordanian rule over its eastern half,
it could thrive and develop.
Though the Temple remains in ruins,
the earthly, material city has
truly been rebuilt. Just wander the streets around Mamilla or visit
the outlaying neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze’ev and Neveh
Jerusalem, Israel’s largest city, was home to 801,000
at the end of
2011. Never before has Jerusalem thrived so impressively. It should
not be a surprise that it is the most desired place to live among new
immigrants, according to a Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies
report released on Jerusalem Day.
This is not to say that
Jerusalem as a city does not face challenges.
It has a huge haredi population (65 percent of Jewish children are
enrolled in ultra-Orthodox elementary schools) and its Muslim
population, presently 35% of the total, is growing only slightly
slower than the Jewish population. According to Central Bureau of
Statistics data, Jerusalem is the poorest of the six large cities.
Monthly expenditures per capita were just NIS 3,223. Just 45.7% of
work-age Jerusalemites participate in the labor market compared to a
national average of 57.4%. And Jerusalem is at the center of the
But integral to the Jewish
people’s return to Jerusalem is the need
to grapple with the nitty-gritty endeavor of shaping reality in the
image of the idea.
On Jerusalem Day we should feel thankful for
living in a generation
that has witnessed a rebuilt Jerusalem, and daunted by the many
challenges that yerushalayim shel mata presents. (© 1995-2011, The
Jerusalem Post 05/20/12)
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