By Rabbi Sonya Starr
There is nothing more controversial in the Jewish diaspora than Israel. All one has to do is say “Israel” and we visibly tense up, holding our breath, waiting to see what political, religious and/or ethical position the speaker will take. The only other place that holds a more complicated position in the Jewish world is, of course, Jerusalem, for Jerusalem is a physical place with geo-political dimensions as well as a spiritual place that cannot be measured. How then do we as a community understand Jerusalem Day?
Historically, many of us know that Jerusalem was divided during the War of Independence and nineteen years later was reunited as a result of the Six-Day War. The battle of Jerusalem began on the morning of June 5, 1967. On May 12 1968, the Government decided to make the 28th of Iyar Jerusalem Day.
Even in Israel, Yom Yerushalim is complicated. Many people celebrate this day by traveling to Jerusalem. The mayor of Jerusalem hosts state ceremonies. In religious Zionist communities, people celebrate this holiday with parades and additional prayers in the synagogue. Many of the residents and business owners are advised to close shop and stay home.
As a result of these complexities, many of us who do not live in Israel have stopped celebrating Jerusalem Day or worse, talking about Jerusalem at all. As a result, our children interpret our silence as apathy. Jerusalem is becoming like any city anywhere in the world with no more relevance to our lives than Oklahoma or Guatemala City would have. What if this year we celebrated Jerusalem Day by talking to each other, demonstrating that we can disagree and still respect those we disagree with? As Rabbi Kramer teaches, “What if we use the ancient method of maklohet/sacred arguing to learn from each other, not to prove each other wrong?” We are commanded in Psalm 137 not to forget Jerusalem. This year may we remember Jerusalem by reaching out to those with whom we differ and offer a moment of listening. For only as we learn to understand and respect the true complexities in this mystical, spiritual, historical, complicated, and beautiful city will we ever be able to celebrate Yom Yerushayim in a just peaceful manner.