A Prayer for Jerusalem

May 10, 2021Rabbi Josh Weinberg

We just celebrated Yom Y'rushalayimYom Y'rushalayimיוֹם יְרוּשָׁלַיִם"Jerusalem Day;" Israeli holiday that commemorates the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem and Israeli control of the Old City. , the anniversary of that fateful day in 1967 when the Israeli paratroopers reached the Western Wall and announced: "הר הבית בידנו" -- “The Temple Mount is in our Hands.” That moment ushered in the promise for Jews everywhere, after years of dreaming and longing, to come and pray before this sacred space, and to unite Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.

That dream is being hijacked by extremists who march with Israeli flags through the Old City chanting “Death to Arabs.” Theirs is not an expression of restoration and national pride; it is an arrogant expression of extremism and hostility toward others. It makes a mockery of our tradition’s call to balance Middat HaDin – God’s attribute of strict judgment, with Middat HaRachamim – the attribute of compassion.

Hate mongering is not the monopoly of Jewish extremists. Arab extremists who deny Israel’s right to exist and who call for Jerusalem to be an Arab/Muslim city extremists are using observance of Ramadan as an opportunity to exploit tensions around the Temple Mount to provoke violence in the city and beyond. The hundreds of Hamas rockets that have fallen in the past couple of days have sent thousands to shelters and instilled fear and the need to escalate the response.

All this comes amid a campaign by right-wing NGOs to evict more than a dozen Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The case is now before Israel’s Supreme Court.

I view such evictions as a violation of Jewish values; they raise the question: How can we, who have over the centuries been exiled and forcibly removed from our homes, again and again, condone such treatment of others, even if the Supreme Court rules on their validity?

The confluence of these eviction efforts, combined with the provocative Flag March falling during Ramadan and leading up to Thursday’s observance of Eid-el-Fitr, Palestinian Authority incitement to violence, and now Hamas rocket fire from Gaza have made Jerusalem into a powder keg, threatening to spill over into the rest of the country, and even disrupt advanced coalition negotiations.

The Jerusalem I love is a holy city, but her sanctity ultimately will be judged by the actions of her residents, both Arab and Jew.

The Jerusalem I love is a modern city with an ancient story to tell, a city echoing the sounds of pilgrims, travelers, and seekers through the centuries. Look on one hill and behold the holiest site in whose direction Jews the world over, focus their prayer; and see another hill across the city where there stands a shrine of democracy.

The Psalmist describes Jerusalem as a “city knit together,” כְּ֝עִ֗יר שֶׁחֻבְּרָה־לָּ֥הּ יַחְדָּֽו – a city shared by Israelis and Palestinians, by Jews, Muslims, and Christians of all denominations.

There is Yerushalayim shel Maalah – the Jerusalem on high -- and Yerushalayim Shel Matah – the Jerusalem below. There is Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jerusalem, secular Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem of Jewish renewal with 5 Reform congregations around the city. There is the Jerusalem of King Herod and the Jerusalem of Moshe Safdie. There is Jerusalem of gold and Jerusalem of iron.

My teacher Rabbi Michael Marmur wrote:

“The call of the Psalmist שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם should not only be translated as ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem.’ It must also mean that in these dark moments we should ask what needs to happen for Jerusalem to have a chance of a sustainable and equitable peace?"

This Shabbat we could all add a special prayer as we prepare for the festival of Shavuot - a pilgrimage holiday to Jerusalem. Let us say together:

שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם יִשְׁלָיוּ אֹהֲבָיִךְ׃ יְהִי־שָׁלוֹם בְּחֵילֵךְ שַׁלְוָה בְּאַרְמְנוֹתָיִךְ.

Shaalu sh'lom Y'rusahlayim yishlayu ohavaich: Y'hi shalom b'cheilech, shalvah b'armenotaich.

Pray for the well-being of Jerusalem; May those who love you be at peace. May there be well-being within your ramparts, peace in your citadels. (Psalm 122:6-7)


For more, please see the press release from URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs.

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