Keep dreaming: Jerusalem divided, Jerusalem destroyed (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By DAVID BREAKSTONE 05/25/12)
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Everyone has his or her own association with the Six Day War. For me,
it was the end of ham sandwiches.
I don’t remember feeling overly concerned with what was happening in
the Middle East at the time, but I do remember that when it was all
over my mother announced that since God had done us a favor we would
now do one for him, and proceeded to ban pork products from the
Reform home I grew up in.
For my wife, it was the first time she remembers feeling that
something set her apart from her non-Jewish classmates in Chile.
While they were oblivious to what was going on halfway around the
world, she was worried sick – for reasons she had difficulty
articulating back then but that would eventually bring her to Israel
For a group of pro-Israel Jewish student activists I met with not
long ago, born 25 years after the war ended, it was “the beginning of
the occupation.” They didn’t tell me that with any rancor nor with
any sense of either irony or cynicism. It was simply a “fact” they
had grown up with.
But for all of us, the Six Day War also meant the reunification of
Jerusalem – an emotionally powerful, even if not fully comprehended,
marvel that also served to unify the Jewish people, regardless of
religious orientation, geographic locale, personal history or
Which is all the more reason for feeling sickened by the reality that
today the undivided capital of the State of Israel is dividing our
nation in ways that none of us could have imagined 45 years ago.
With Tisha Be’av only nine weeks away, we would do well to remember
that the sort of internecine differences endemic to contemporary
Israel that were so evident on Jerusalem Day were once responsible
for the destruction of the city. There is no reason to believe that
if Jerusalem should remain so divided that it will not fall again. If
we are to avoid that fate, there are three phenomena in particular
that all of us should do something about, be it by examining our own
behavior or by calling upon our elected officials to change theirs.
1. Jerusalem Day seems to have come under the custody of an
increasingly nationalistic, intolerant and xenophobic element of our
population. I don’t know if that is because it was calculatedly
wrested away from the rest of us, or if we carelessly (in which case
I would also add inexcusably) relinquished our rights to the holiday
by neglecting its celebration.
Whatever the case, that the occasion’s traditional Flag Dance was
characterized by “large groups of Orthodox boys [who] chanted ‘Death
to Arabs’” as reported in this paper (“15 arrested on Jerusalem Day,”
May 21) should be a source of national shame.
It is an intolerable phenomenon that is also a desecration of the
memory of those who died while fighting for the liberation of the
city in a battle that we did everything in our power to avert, but
which, once forced upon us, was fought with heroic bravery and the
deepest sense of history-in-the-making. It is no less a desecration
of their memory that proud and patriotic Jewish citizens of the state
should now be calling for deleting the event from our calendar
altogether (“Leftwing protesters: abolish Jerusalem Day,” May 21).
2. Jerusalem Day celebrations have taken on an ever more
fundamentalist religious character. It is appalling that the official
march to the Old City has been tainted by gender separation, with
women required to enter through the Jaffa Gate and men through the
Dung Gate (“Let the Jerusalem Day festivities begin!” May 18),
effectively broadcasting to huge segments of the population that they
are not really welcome to join in.
This is symptomatic, of course, of the disgraceful trend of gender
segregation and exclusion of women in the public domain that has so
riled our society in recent months. It is no more excusable for being
so. In fact, in light of the public outcry over the phenomenon and
the sexism of which it is both a cause and a reflection, the
municipality should not have sanctioned such a parade.
We are only days away from Shavuot, celebrating the receiving of the
same Torah that this separation of the sexes is meant to honor. Yet
then and there at Sinai we stood together, men and women, one people
in awe of our one God.
3. Jerusalem Day, rather than being an opportunity to acclaim the
fulfillment of our responsibility for presiding over the
municipality’s diverse population without prejudice in respect to
ethnicity, nationality or religion, has instead become an occasion
for lording our supremacy.
While I agree with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s statement
that “Israel without Jerusalem is like a body without a heart,” I
would remind him that it is a heart that continued to beat through
2,000 years of exile, destruction, occupation and division. Our
possession of the city has nothing to do with its power to inspire –
from afar no less (and perhaps even more?) than from up close.
And personally, I feel that power diminished by the stridency of the
prime minister’s remarks, including his insistence that nothing would
prevent us from continuing to build throughout the city. President
Shimon Peres was no less passionate about the significance of
Jerusalem for the Jewish people, but far more conciliatory.
“Prayers from the Western Wall, the calls of the muezzin and church
bells can all be heard without censorship,” he said, adding that we
must do everything possible to realize the hopes for peace that
Furthermore, though I also concur with Netanyahu’s assertion that
only Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem will guarantee everyone free
access to its holy sites, I am discomforted by his neglect of our
failed obligation to guarantee free access to the city’s resources as
Some 40 percent of the residents of east Jerusalem do not complete
high school, due in part to a shortage of a thousand classrooms. Some
84% of the children there subsist beneath the poverty level. To
dismiss these statistics with the observation that “every major city
in the world has less desirable neighborhoods” as does Ilana Brown
(“There is no Zionism without Jerusalem,” May 21) is disingenuous.
To then assert, as she does, that “Classical Zionism... did not
provide a plan for a utopian society or even a framework for solving
societal ills” is nothing short of a display of colossal ignorance.
As a volunteer for Im Tirtzu, named in honor of Zionism’s founding
father, she has no excuse for not knowing better.
The New Society Herzl imagined into being in his futuristic novel
Altneuland thrives on an economic system of “mutualism,” which
eliminated both unemployment and poverty. Education through
university is tuition-free for everyone – Arabs, too. And Jerusalem
has become a model for coexistence, an internationalized, thriving
metropolis in which “magnificent new buildings... serving Christians,
Muslims and Jews stood next to one another,” while “in a large square
stood the splendid Peace Palace... the center of international
efforts to alleviate the suffering of the downtrodden around the
Brown may not like this vision, but there is no denying that it is
the ideal set before us by the visionary of the Jewish state at the
very beginning of our long journey home. Zionism doesn’t get any more
classical than that.
It really doesn’t matter, then, whether or not we interpret the Six
Day War as a favor from God. Jerusalem Day should regardless serve as
an inspiration to all of us to edge the Jerusalem of the here-and-now
just a bit closer to the Jerusalem of the days-to-come, so that its
celebration will faithfully reflect the aspirations of our forebears –
those who set out from Egypt just seven weeks ago on their way to
the Promised Land via Mount Sinai and those who set the Zionist dream
in motion and who fought for its fulfillment, who now rest on Mount
What an unspeakable tragedy it would be if generations to come were
required to add our downfall to the litany of calamities that befell
our people on Tisha Be’av due to transgressions of our own making. (©
1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 05/25/12)
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