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Archive for December, 2017

“If I forget you O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither; let my tongue stick to my palate if I cease to think of you”  Psalm 137:5,6

These words from Psalm 137 deeply reflect the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem. It is a part of our history, our religious development and of our soul. One cannot discuss Jerusalem without evoking deep reactions, especially for those who have been to Jerusalem. I lived there for almost one year, the year I began my rabbinic studies. My experience there was life changing. My connection to the city is undeniable. Given the context of President Trump’s announcement recognizing Western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, allow me to separate from my emotions for a moment and share some historical facts.

First, the Jewish connection to Jerusalem goes back up to 3,000 years. It has always been the capital of Judah, and we can confirm that archeologically at least to the 8th century BCE. At the end of the 19th century, before the Zionist movement began bringing new settlers to Palestine, the majority of the population of Jerusalem was Jewish. This included a Jewish quarter in the Old City. As Jewish immigration in the early 20th century increased Jewish presence in Palestine, Western Jerusalem grew as a Jewish area. In November of 1947, when the United Nations passed the resolution to create 2 states in Palestine, one Jewish and the other Arab, it included a clause that Jerusalem should be an international city, open to all and dominated by none.

The rejection of the United Nation’s resolution by Arab leadership in Palestine as well as the surrounding Arab nations meant Jerusalem became an open target for dominance by either side. During the 1948 war, Jordan captured and took control of the Old City and East Jerusalem. Immediately afterwards the Jordanians destroyed the Jewish quarter of the Old City. The Israelis took control of West Jerusalem and soon afterwards declared it to be the capital of the new state of Israel. In 1967 Israel took back the Old City and Eastern Jerusalem during the Six Day War. It is important to note that during the 19 years of Jordanian occupation of the Old City, no Jews were allowed to enter and pray at the Western Wall. Under Israeli control all religions that see Jerusalem as a holy city are permitted to engage in their religious activities.

Given all that I have related so far, it is clear to see why any Jew who cares at all about Jewish history, Israel, religious observance, or personal connections to Jerusalem; would feel emotional stirring by President Trump’s announcement recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and promise to eventually move the American embassy there. However, as Americans and human beings, we need to look at Jerusalem and its status holistically; recognizing there is much more depth and complication than the emotional shout of “hooray” that we feel as Jews. In short, I agree with URJ President Rick Jacobs’ remarks at Shabbat services this past Saturday when he stated that as Jews of course we support the reality of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but we must question the timing and context of the announcement.

Why? To start there is the reality of what happens “on the ground,” both politically and in the streets of Jerusalem. The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as an eventual capital of their state if there can be a two state solution. The reaction is not capitulation but resistance resulting in violence – which is harming both Palestinians and Israelis. While we can list criticisms of Palestinian leadership, in particular their support and urging of virulent anti-Semitism in their communities; we cannot deny that the presence of Palestinian Arabs in the whole area once known as Palestine, is as legitimate as Jewish presence. That is the tragic sadness of two peoples, both with real historic and emotional ties to this area, but whose needs and connections are in conflict. How does the President’s unilateral declaring of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital contribute to a true, peaceful resolution of this conflict? It does not. It only adds to existing tension, in addition to the rising of distrust of the United States as a potential moderator/negotiator.

The bigger context than Jewish concerns is the seemingly random acts and declarations made by President Trump that stir controversy. There is no real strategic reason for many of his declarations other than a way to feed his unending narcissistic need of feeling the love and support of his base, and/or trying to draw some others into his base by playing with their emotions on an issue. Another example of this is his declaration of banning transsexual people from the military. His base loved that but those in responsible positions that have to deal with consequences made it clear this was not happening so fast (if at all). If the President is truly concerned about finding a peaceful solution for the issues between Israel and the Palestinians, this random declaration was a senseless act, thinking only for his short term desires not long term strategy.

We must point out that every American administration, whether Democrat or Republican, has put the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the larger context of being part of an overall peaceful solution. Trump, however, cares not about true solutions, but about his own, egotistical, emotional needs given any moment. I am saddened that a place I care about so deeply – Jerusalem – has now become just another tool for the con artist in chief.

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