the holiday tends to be focused on the events of the Six Day War and less about its greater meaning.
REPRINTS FROM THE JERUSALEM POST; BY GOL KALEV, MAY 13, 2021
This week we celebrate Jerusalem Day, Judaism’s newest religious holiday, marking the 1967 return to Jerusalem
It is a religious holiday, since the rabbinical authority and a significant portion of religious Jews alter the daily prayers on that day and treat it as a holy day, including in reciting the Halel, thanking God.
It is too early for the holiday’s ethos to settle. Passover, in the early years, was also not settled. We have an account of the 40th Passover in the book of Joshua. Back then, Passover seemed to be focused more about the events of the Exodus and its aftermath rather than what it meant.
Similarly now, on the 54th Jerusalem Day, the holiday tends to be focused on the events of the Six Day War and less about its greater meaning.
It seems to escape us that the holiday marks the completion of one of humanity’s most astonishing cycles: Two millennia after being deported from Jerusalem in the 1st century CE, Jews and Judaism in 1967 returned to Zion.
Jerusalem unveils herself to those who love her
Nobel Prize-winning author Shmuel Yosef Agnon wrote in his 1945 book Tmol Shilshom (Only Yesterday) that Jerusalem unveils herself only to those who love her.
For the 2,000 years since the European invaders obliterated Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and exiled the Jews from Zion, it was difficult to love Jerusalem so passionately. Jerusalem was associated with sadness and with a longing to renew our days – not with the happiness, joy and strong connection to God that characterized Jerusalem until the Europeans (Greek and then Romans) invaded it. Similarly, during the past 1,000 years it was also associated with the third European invaders (French and other Crusaders), who “ethnic cleansed” the entirety of Jerusalem’s Jewish and Muslim population.
Indeed, for 2,000 years, the day that the Jewish refugees most associated with Jerusalem was Tisha Be’av – a day of mourning and weeping in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.
But even after the Jews returned to their land, the love for Jerusalem was hindered. For practical reasons, the “capital” of the renewed Jewish settlement was Jaffa. For centuries, Jerusalem was neglected by its rulers as its geopolitical value was diminished. It had bad access roads and was associated with poverty, beggary and misery, as Herzl himself described recounted in his diary and in his utopic novel Altneuland.
Out of Jaffa grew a new Hebrew City, named after the Hebrew translation of Herzl’s Altneuland – Tel Aviv. And so, Tel Aviv quickly became the symbol of Zionism.
The military siege imposed on Jerusalem during the 1947-1948 War of Independence, the fall of the Old City of Jerusalem and the expulsion of its Jewish residents shaped the image for many of today’s Israelis, as a highly revered yet pitiful Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was loved from a distance, and hence, per Agnon’s formula, it only partially unveiled itself to most Israelis.
Even after it was reunited in 1967, Jerusalem, for many Israelis, continued to be associated with terrorism, tensions, heaviness and the past, as depicted by author Amos Oz, who said in the 1990s: “In the war between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I am all on the side of Tel Aviv – sanity, secularity, the present.”
2010s shift from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
But things are changing. There is an astonishing revival in Jerusalem. The old mantra that “Jerusalem is to pray, and Tel Aviv is to play” is dented.
Mahaneh Yehuda market (the shuk) attracts thousands of domestic tourists every week, and Jerusalem’s art, culinary, egalitarian bars, wine festival and cultural events have turned it into the epicenter of Israeli vibrancy. Its diverse population, international residents, as well as a culture of dialogue and curiosity, revolutionized the Jerusalem social experience. Sitting at a bar or cafe in the shuk and sparking a random conversation with a nun, rabbi, anarchists or foreign diplomat is not the opening line of a joke, it is the daily reality there.
Jerusalem ascended, not by “Tel Avivizing” but by staying true to what it is. Jerusalem is now for play because Jerusalem is still very much for prayer. Jerusalem is the ultimate be-who-you-are culture, and gradually more and more Israelis are recognizing it.
The new 33-minute train connection from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem facilitates the rapprochement of Israelis with Zion. Even more so, it makes the Amos Oz framing utterly irrelevant – there is no war between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. You can have both, even multiple times a day, through a short frequent and comfortable train ride.
BUT THERE is also another process that elevates Jerusalem: the democratization of Israel. Over the last decade, there has been a shift of political power away from the secular minority that is associated with what is known as “the state of Tel Aviv” to the religious/traditional majority that is associated with Jerusalem. Similarly, there is a shift away from the homogeneity of the old Ashkenazi elite that controlled Zionism since 1935.
For example, from 1968 to 1999, all the prime ministers from the Labor Party were from Tel Aviv, all from the Ramat Aviv neighborhood considered to be the elite of Tel Aviv. Since 2001, two out of three of Israel’s prime ministers were from Jerusalem, and none from Tel Aviv.
Similarly, there is a shift of Israeli cultural ethos from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Such a shift infuses Zionism with vitality and enthusiasm. While Tel Aviv has been associated with a culture of cynicism and worship of half-empty – protest, complaints – Jerusalem is a celebration of the half-full: “This land is very very good,” as written on some of its building’s walls. A nation needs enthusiasm to prevail, and the repository of such enthusiasm is now in Jerusalem. The more it is loved, the more it unveils its beauty and generates national optimism.
Judaism coming home
As discussed in this column and my upcoming book, Zionism is becoming the anchor of Judaism. Through positive and negative, it is becoming the relevant aspect through which Jews relate to their Judaism and the prism by which the outside world relates to the Jews. Zionism is the one aspect of Judaism that evokes passions and enthusiasm (not Bagel & Lox, not the Holocaust and certainly not the synagogue that over 90% of Jews do not attend regularly). As Herzl once said: “How can we tell the power of an idea? In that nobody can ignore it – whether he is for it, or against it.” Zionism today is the one aspect of Judaism that nobody can ignore.
Jerusalem Day is the holiday that epitomizes the vision Herzl stated in the first Zionist Congress: “Zionism is the return to Judaism, even before it is the return to the land of the Jews”
Hence, it is time to upgrade Jerusalem Day – to recognize that it is not just about the return of Jews to Jerusalem, but also about the return of Judaism to Jerusalem!
THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE MAY 14, 2021 JERUSALEM POST MAGAZINE – CLICK FOR THE PDF OF GOL KALEV’S COLUMN ALONG WITH RABBI DAVID WOLPE’S AND RABBI SHMUEL RABINOWITZ’S:
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Related Jerusalem Post articles by Gol Kalev:
From ‘Then Sang Moses’ to ‘Then Sang Herzl’ -Herzl’s view of the Exodus from Europe in comparison to the Exodus from Egypt
Passover as Jewish particularity – Herzl created a new anchor for Judaism, having concluded that the primary malaise of 2,000 years of exile was not the persecution, but rather the lack of unified Jewish political leadership
The decades that transformed Judaism – Judaism was shaped through three brief periods of radical changes: the Abrahamic revolution that shaped Judaism 1.0; the 1st century CE destruction of the Temple that shaped Judaism 2.0; and the 20th century Zionist revolution that seeded Judaism 3.0
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