Jerusalem through the Windows of Time - Chapter One

by ABRAHAM STAHL

INTRODUCTION
Jewish organizations hold elevated expectations that the theme of Jerusalem will be able to reach out and touch many more hearts than any other, because the eternal city and capital of the land and State of Israel is so charged with meaning for the Jewish people.

We hope that it will not only affect young people, but that it will bring them - with their parents, their educators, their communities - to learn about Jerusalem and come to experience Jerusalem and Israel in person. Indeed, there can be no richer source of Jewish identification than the city of Jerusalem, which unites all Jews together, near and far, with its wealth of pathways to our roots, our culture, our life - our hopes for the future.

To learn about Jerusalem, to feel its pulse, to explore its layers and know its neighborhoods, is to touch the vital spirit of Jewish existence, the essence of Jewish education today. In the book, "Jerusalem Through the Windows of Time", you will discover the many faces of Jerusalem, traced through the history of human and Jewish consciousness. We invite you to enter these windows and come to know Jerusalem through its many associations and messages.

Chapter One :

Jerusalem Today - Center of People and Country

Jerusalem has been the center of Jewish existence ever since the city was captured by King David some three thousand years ago. Even when the vast majority of Jews lived in exile, yearning for Jerusalem remained a central feature of Jewish life. Through the entire history of Jerusalem, there was hardly a time when Jews did not live there, though at times they numbered no more than a handful.

Today, since the return of the Jewish people to its land, and particularly since Jerusalem's reunification after the Six Day War in 1967, the city has become a true center for Jewish institutions and organizations. Educational institutions of every sort have sprung up here, particularly institutions of Jewish and religious education. Many Jews from the Diaspora visit Jerusalem as representatives of various organizations; many spend a portion of their lives here as students. In this introductory chapter, we present a portrait of the Jerusalem of today.


A Reunion in Jerusalem

As children, Judy and Susan, two Jewish girls, lived in Johannesburg, South Africa. They studied together there in a Jewish school where they became close friends. When they reached bat mitzvah age, their parents decided to leave South Africa. Judy's family settled in Toronto, Canada, and Susan's family moved to Sydney, Australia. At first, the girls corresponded, but as time passed, they lost touch with each other.

A few years later, Judy came to Israel. It was not her first time, but this time it was not just another visit. Now she was in Israel to study for a year in Jerusalem, and her parents agreed that if she wished she could continue her studies at the Hebrew University. Judy came to Israel with a group of young people from North America. Although Judy was very happy with the program, she felt quite isolated, as she did not know anyone else in the group. Before the beginning of the school year, the group went on several tours. One hot day in the middle of the summer, when the group was enjoying an ice cream in the park adjacent to the old Knesset building in the center of, Jerusalem another group of English speaking young people passed. Among the young women, Judy saw one whose face looked familiar. She took a closer look: Susan! The two girls shouted and hugged in their joy and excitement at meeting each other and were delighted to discover that both had come to study at the same institution, one which takes in Jewish young people from all over the world. With no previous planning, the two friends met and renewed their friendship in Jerusalem.


Ingathering of Exiles

Look, O children, from afar
City of Zion, your people lives
If to the ends of earth we wander
Our hearts yet long for you
Before your summit we came together
Brother reaching out for brother
(Shaul Tchernikovsky)


Going Up to Jerusalem - a Memoir

Rahel Yana'it Ben Tzvi immigrated to what was then Turkish Palestine as a young pioneer in 1908. She became one of the leading activists in the Zionist movement and the Haganah (the pre-state, Jewish military organization) and married Yitzhak Ben Tzvi, later elected second president of Israel. In her memoirs, she describes her first trip to Jerusalem a short while after arriving in the country:

Light-drenched memories of my first days in Jerusalem fill my heart. I board the train to Jerusalem, and from the first moment, I am enveloped in an indescribable feeling of exaltation. In the same train car with me sits an Orthodox Jew of the old settlement of Jerusalem in his traditional dress, and next to him an Arab, resplendent in black with a red tarbush on his head, his entire bearing signifying his importance. . . . Suddenly a Jew sitting behind me addresses me: "Why are you so happy?" he asks, "The Effendi asks why you are so happy." He explains the reason for my happiness to the Effendi, that I am going up to Jerusalem, and everyone knows that a Jew's heart is happy when he goes up to Jerusalem.
(Rahel Yana'it Ben Tzvi, Anu Olim)

"We must make Jerusalem the center of the entire Jewish people. . . . Jerusalem has always been and must remain the heart of the Jewish people."
David Ben Gurion


In Memory of Jerusalem

From the time the Jews went into exile, they developed various ways of remembering Jerusalem. In the Shulhan Arukh, the standard code of Jewish law, we find:

From the time the Temple was destroyed, the Sages legislated that we never erect a building decorated with pictures but rather finish all buildings with simple plaster and paint and leave a square cubit opposite the entrance unpainted (in memory of the destruction of the Temple). When a man marries a woman, he takes a bit of ash and smears it on his forehead. . ., and in some communities he breaks a glass under the bridal canopy. . . . All these measures are taken to remember Jerusalem, as is written, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning" (Psalms 137:5). . . .
(Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim 560:1-2)

"Every Jew carries his own Jerusalem within his heart."
(Levi Eshkol)


View from a Sidewalk Cafe in the Heart of Jerusalem

You can learn much about Jerusalem from a visit to her sites and institutions, her archaeological monuments and museums. But you can learn every bit as much about the city - and with a lot less effort - just by stopping for coffee and cake in one of the many sidewalk cafes on Ben Yehuda Street.

Ben Yehudah Street runs right through the center of downtown Jerusalem. A few years ago it was closed to traffic and repaved in stone. In English, Ben Yehuda Street is now called the Downtown Mall. In Hebrew, they call it the Midrahov.

We sat there recently, my wife and I, and watched the crowds of people passing by without break: native Jerusalemites and their guests, Jews and non-Jews, the average and the curious you find all of them on the Midrahov. Here is a group of black- skinned men and women: tourists from some African nation? From the United States? Or perhaps new immigrants from Ethiopia? While we try to discover the answer, two Hasidim pass by in their long black robes. They pass quickly looking neither right nor left, immersed in their own world. Opposite us stands an older man, singing and accompanying himself on the violin. Next to him is a hand-written sign, "This is my work." He is a new immigrant, who, failing to find employment in his field, decided to support himself by playing music here on the Midrahov. Since he's been doing it for several years now, he seems to be making a living. Now a group of people has collected around him, all of them wearing identical shirts bearing some message. My wife strains to read: "Jewish Volunteers from Canada." Two policewomen join the circle. Next to them passes an Arab and with him two women decked out from head to toe in black garments and white head coverings. Two nuns approach, they, too, are completely covered in black but with large crosses dangling from their necks. Behind them stands a family with children of different ages, hungrily eyeing the pizza and falafel stands. A noisy group of high school girls crowds into a jewelry store. They pay no attention to the strange skinny man in rumpled clothing who passes by carrying a sign, proclaiming, "The Torah Says: Jerusalem Belongs to the Jewish People Only."

On the Midrahov you can hear all languages and taste cuisine of every origin. On the Midrahov, you can meet anyone, even someone from Afula or Brazil. From the sidewalk cafes, you can see and feel the Jerusalem of three religions, the international Jerusalem, and more than anything else, Jewish Jerusalem in all its variety.


Jerusalem - Focus of Negotiations for Peace

Today, as so many times in the past, Jerusalem is at the center of a great controversy. Since the signing of the Declaration of Principles on 12 September 1993 ("the Oslo agreement"), Jerusalem finds herself the focus of discussion between Israel and the Palestinians concerning the permanent settlement between the two peoples.

Israel sees the united Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people and is not prepared to see the city divided again. The Palestinians, on the other hand, view the eastern portion of Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state they wish to establish.

Is Jerusalem destined to become a symbol of peace between Jews and Arabs or remain a bone of bitter contention?


There Is No Place Like Jerusalem


There is no place like Jerusalem
City of seers and God;
One are you, Jerusalem
Heart of the holy land.

There is no place like Jerusalem
Glory of many peoples
One are you, Jerusalem
Our soul goes out to you.

There is no place like Jerusalem
City holy to all
One are you, Jerusalem
Ours forever more.
(Avraham Broides)


The Jerusalem Shuttle

Joseph Pinto owns a travel agency in a large city in South America. His city is the home of a small, but enthusiastic, Jewish community. In spite of its small Jewish population, there is plenty of activity, and at the center of it all you'll find Joseph Pinto and his wife Alice. We bumped into Joseph on the Midrahov in Jerusalem. "Nu, Joseph, in Jerusalem again?"

"Yes, recently, it seems that all I do is travel back and forth. They ought to make me an honorary board member of the airline. Three months ago, I was here for a conference of heads of Latin American Jewish communities. A month and a half ago, there was a conference to encourage Jewish tourism. In another two months, the Jewish Agency will be holding a discussion on the problems of educating Jewish youth."

"And now?"
"This time I'm accompanying my wife. She's president of the Hadassah chapter in our city, and she has an important international conference here."
"Where are you staying?"
"Well, you know, we don't stay in hotels anymore. I got sick of being in a different place every time I came. My son got married and made aliyah; he's living in Jerusalem. I'm here almost as much as I'm at home. So we bought a little apartment, where we stay every time we come now. Believe me, it's not often empty!"


Jerusalem the Crowded

Those who live in Jerusalem, and even those who are only visiting, often encounter all sorts events connected to the city's being the capital of Israel. A wide variety of governmental and Jewish programs are conducted in Jerusalem. On the one hand, all this activity makes the city an interesting place to be. On the other hand, it can be quite a nuisance.

Whoever planned the city center a hundred or so years ago - and it appears that no one planned it! - certainly did not consider the city might need a boulevard for parades, as in ancient Babylon and in modern day Paris. Narrow, twisting Jaffa Road, Jerusalem's Main Street, is far from being suited to the throngs of marchers who frequent it, particularly during the holidays, but on regular week days as well. Who comes to march in Jerusalem? Athletic organizations, youth movements, army units, friends of Israel from foreign countries, demonstrators for and against the government, etc., etc., etc. The list of who doesn't come would probably be shorter. When there's no parade, there must certainly be some president, king, or prime minister coming to visit another reason for Jerusalem's finest to dutifully close all the main arteries. And when Jaffa Road is closed, all Jerusalem is paralyzed. Cars stop moving and the city turns into a giant traffic jam. The poor policemen have to work for hours after to get the city unsnarled. May God have mercy on anyone with the bad luck of having to get to work or get home when the President of Upper Volta comes to visit or when the Mothers Against Artificial Food Coloring have their demonstration.

If you're lucky, you won't be stuck more than two or three hours. At the entrance to Jerusalem, you can always find signs welcoming various Jewish and non-Jewish organizations holding their conventions here:
Jerusalem Welcomes WIZO Women
Jerusalem Welcomes HaPo'el
Jerusalem Welcomes B'nei Akiva
The Zionist Congress
The World Conference of Rabbis
The World union of Jewish Students
Etc. etc. etc.

I've always wondered whether the municipal government has a storeroom somewhere, where they keep all these signs, or maybe, the city has a whole mini-staff of busy workers who do nothing but paint them.


A Torah Center in Modern Times

Years ago, when a difficult problem of Jewish law arose in one of the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, the local rabbi would describe the problem in a letter, and when a group of merchants would leave for a city with an important yeshiva, the rabbi would send his query and wait for a response from the yeshiva's scholars. Sometimes, he might wait a full year for an answer until the merchants returned.

Today, the international center of Torah scholarship is Jerusalem with her many yeshivot and religious institutions. When a rabbi somewhere in South America or the Far East has a problem, he mails his letter by fax. Today, you can even fax a note to be inserted in the Western Wall. Those ancient stones which have seen so much, are witness in our time to the wonders of modern technology.


Events in the Life of Jerusalem

Anyone who explores Jerusalem will be surrounded by structures and ruins that testify to the city's rich history: days of glory and ruin, periods when Jerusalem served as the center of a Jewish kingdom, and periods when hardly any Jews lived here.

Alongside the Knesset and the Israel Museum, the new neighborhoods that surround the city - all modern structures of our own period - you can find synagogues built hundreds of years ago; churches of every Christian denomonation and numerous mosques; monuments commemorating battles and losses from the time of Israel's War of Independence and the Six Day War; and foundations of buildings and streets from Roman times. Jerusalem also contains mysterious tombs of people from biblical times - Absalom son of David and the prophetess Hulda - as well as tombs of important people from every generation, including renowned sages from the furthest reaches of the Diaspora - from Italy, Eastern Europe, Morocco, and Yemen. Important figures from recent generations, such as Eliezer Ben Yehudah and Theodore Herzl, are also buried here.

The names of Jerusalem's streets tell the history of the Jewish people in all periods and places, from the prophet Isaiah and the medieval Bible commentator Nahmanides to the murdered Herzl Baazov, a Zionist leader from the Soviet Republic of Georgia.

Meeting place for Jews the world over, object of Jewish longing throughout the generations, cosmopolitan tourist attraction and center of three religions, host to conventions, congresses, parades, and demonstrations; busy, overcrowded capital of a modern nation- state; center of Jewish piety and scholarship; and burial ground for the central figures of Jewish history - Jerusalem is greater than the sum of its parts.

We hope that these pages will spark your interest in visiting Jerusalem and getting to know the eternal capital of the Jewish people on intimate terms.


 

 

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26 Apr 2007 / 8 Iyar 5767 0