How can we describe Jerusalem?
In the Talmud: Ten measures of beauty descended to the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem."
(Talmud: Kiddushin 49b)
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.
From the prophet Isaiah: For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
These words -- all from holy sources -- are not just lip service. They are not metaphor. In oh so many ways, Jerusalem IS our beating heart.
Three thousand years ago, King David made Jerusalem the capital. Not just the political capital, but it was -- and is -- the beating heart of the Jewish people.
Jerusalem remained the political and spiritual capital of Israel for one thousand years. Even after its destruction by Rome, it remained our spiritual center ... as it is today.
Today, you can walk her streets and marvel that our history -- our long, sacred, precious history -- is right there. You can feel it. You can breathe it. You can imagine through millennia our people studying, praying, and living there.
In Jerusalem, we can sing her praises.
Through most of our history, Jews have been a vital part of Jerusalem, except:
the Romans temporarily barred us from entry after the Bar Kochba revolt of 135 ce
the massacre perpetrated by Crusaders in 1099. However, nearly a century later, Muslims recaptured the city and invited Jews back.
a twenty year period -- 1947 to 1967 -- when East Jerusalem fell to Jordan. That was the first and only time Jerusalem has ever been a divided city.
But now! Now we can we can enter the Old City -- home of the Temple Mount -- the Kotel -- and locus of Jewish life from ancient times until now.
And Jerusalem's place of honor in Jewish hearts and souls makes recent events so horrible.
Jerusalem is old -- any city that old will see her share of violence. Because of Jerusalem herself, she has had more than her share ... much more.
That does not make it easier to stomach the brutal murders of four rabbis who simply went to their Jerusalem synagogue to dovven the morning prayers. Nor does it ease the pain caused by the murder of the Israeli-Druse policeman trying to protect the worshippers.
That was not the only terror attack of recent days. We've seen terrorists intentionally running people down with their cars. We've seen the Palestinian leadership call for a Day of Rage every Friday. And the Hamas leadership thinks it's just fine to target Israeli political leaders for murder. Case in point, Israel just foiled a Palestinian attempt to murder Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister.
Hamas justified their reasoning this way: Israelis ie Jews are desecrating Muslim holy places Therefore, we should kill them.
EVEN IF they were guilty as accused, does that justify murder? We could list the Jewish synagogues and other holy places destroyed by Arabs in wars over the last seventy odd years ... it would be a long list. But Israel does not -- has not -- targeted any religious sites -- whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian.
The Israeli government protects them all.
But much of the uproar focuses on whether Jews are even allowed on the Temple Mount -- which is a holy site to Muslims and houses the Dome of the Rock.
When I lived in Israel, Jews could freely access the Temple Mount. There were steps leading from the Kotel to the mosques. I walked up there once. It wasn't comfortable. Muslim guards looked ... unfriendly... I didn't stay long.
Jews don't pray there. Israel has gone out of its way to maintain it is a holy place for Muslims.
But now, we can't even go there lest we be accused of inciting Palestinians to murder. Decades after the Holocaust, others demand that we make the Temple Mount judenrein -- clear of Jews. Anything less is viewed as a desecration and call to war.
So terror threats in Jerusalem mount.
And what are we to do?
As always, we must stay informed. Not everyone knows Jewish history, let alone the story of modern Israel. It is incumbent on every Jew to learn.
We must never lose sight of the innate holiness of the land of Israel and its capital, Jerusalem. That holiness often seems broken. It is our job to restore it.
Most importantly, our lives, our actions, must reflect our literal mission from God: be a light to the nations and a holy people.
To that end, I'd like to close with a letter -- and a call --written by the widows of the murdered rabbis...