Yesterday, June 7, marked the fiftieth anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification. It is appropriate that in the Haftorah for this Shabbat B’ha’alotkha, the exiled Jewish people are promised a return to Jerusalem. After enduring life in Babylonia and Persia, Am Yisrael (thanks to Kings Cyrus and Darius) will rebuild their Temple and live securely in their homeland. Securely, that is, until the Romans marched around and eventually sent Jews into a new and prolonged Diaspora.
In future centuries Jews would come to appreciate-only too well-both their exile from Jerusalem and their longing for return. In contemporary times of course (from 1948-1967) no Jew could visit Jerusalem’s Old City; much less live there. During that period, Jordan not only ruled the Old City, but destroyed its synagogues and built a new hotel in a spot overlooking Jewish/Israeli graves. Since 1967, no matter what the challenges and setbacks, Jerusalem has been an open city for Jews, Christians, Moslems and other religions. The Mosques are filled with Muslim prayer on Fridays; the church bells ring on Sunday. Whatever one’s political view-left or right-Jerusalem has been a remarkable illustration of a city in which Jew and Muslim co-exist; even if under trying circumstances. Yes, there is ongoing terrorism and I would tread carefully when traversing some districts of the Old City; but Jerusalem has survived. Rather than as the subject of ongoing and tiresome condemnations, Jerusalem should be lauded for being home to so many diverse people.
In the future, the US Embassy may or may not be relocated to Jerusalem. On that subject uncertainty exists. If renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ever get off the ground, Jerusalem may become the capital of two nations. But, of course, on the subject of peace uncertainty more than exists. The ultimate Israeli sacrifice might (with emphasis on might) require a new division of Jerusalem. If peace were actually achievable and embraced by Jews and Palestinians alike; I believe Israelis would consider a divided Jerusalem as a steep, but necessary price to pay for ultimate peace and security.
About the future, however, we can only speculate. What we can say for certain, is that in the footsteps of our exiled, biblical forbearers, Am Yisrael returned to Jerusalem fifty years ago yesterday. The Jerusalem to which Israelis returned was-and still is-a city of controversy and tension. Yet, in spite of such controversy, tension, distrust and uncertainty, Jerusalem survives and flourishes. Uncertainty reigns but Jerusalem stands nonetheless.
In the future, other cultures and faiths will still consider Jerusalem as home. Non-Orthodox Jews will continue to fight for their legitimate right to pray at the Western Wall without harassment. Members of the Knesset will shout at each other and wide divisions will persist between the western and eastern segments of the city. Yet, whatever myriad of challenges await satisfactory resolution, my hope is that Jerusalem will remain the eternal capital of the Jewish people.