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Politics & Society

JERUSALEM/ Celestial and Earthly, but not Stereotypical

According to Professor Gil Troy, despite Israel’s many efforts to reach out to the Christians and Muslims who live in Jerusalem, and despite Israel’s extraordinary record in preserving, protecting, and ensuring access to all of Jerusalem’s holy places, control over Jerusalem remains controversial.  

gerusalemme_moscheaR375.jpg(Foto)

Wednesday, May 12, is “Jerusalem Day,” the day marking 43 years by the Jewish lunar calendar since Jerusalem was reunified. Despite Israel’s many efforts to reach out to the Christians and Muslims who live in Jerusalem, and despite Israel’s extraordinary record in preserving, protecting, and ensuring access to all of Jerusalem’s holy places, control over Jerusalem remains controversial.

Recently, the Nobel Peace Prize winning-writer Elie Wiesel felt compelled to place full page ads in major American newspapers explaining Jerusalem’s centrality to the Jewish people. The advertisement, “For Jerusalem” declared: "For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics." Even though President Barack Obama responded by lunching with Professor Wiesel and agreeing to ratchet down tensions around the city, some critics accused Wiesel of being too lyrical, of speaking of “the celestial Jerusalem” not “the earthly one.” As my family and I celebrate our third Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day – as residents of this extraordinary city, I am grateful to Professor Wiesel for using poetry to teach President Barack Obama that Jerusalem is not just another bargaining chip but the eternal window into the Jewish soul.

Accusing Elie Wiesel of being too lyrical is like accusing the late Luciano Pavarotti of being too musical or LeBron James of being too athletic; that’s what they do. Even those of us who lack Professor Wiesel’s eloquence frequently wax poetic about the Jewish people’s capital for the last 3,000 years. That, our radical friends should remember, is what nationalists do when talking about their capitals – and homelands. Americans celebrate Washington’s monuments; Italians hail Rome’s spires; Jews rhapsodize about Jerusalem’s walls.

Unfortunately, if Jews celebrate their eternal ties to Jerusalem – or dare question Palestinian ties – they are deemed racist. Yet those who question Jewish ties to Jerusalem get human rights awards and EU grants, especially if they are Jewish. This narrative imbalance is another form of asymmetrical warfare.

Jerusalem’s walls evoke for Jews a profound mix of nationalism and religion, glory and tragedy, spiritual fulfilment and political redemption, longevity and longing. The Phoenicians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans, disappeared but the Jews remain connected to the same land, speaking the same language, following the same basic laws, and romanticizing the same capital city three thousand years later. Jerusalem has been consistently Jewish since King David but it has not been consistently free. Just 43 years ago, until early June 1967 Jews could glance towards our holiest sites but could not touch our holiest stones.

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