It was only 42 years ago that the City of Jerusalem was liberated. The war in 1967 was an incredible moment in Jewish history. Many of the world were “expecting” that Israel would be unable to survive a war on all fronts, and even Jews in some Diaspora places started to contemplate a Jewish world without Israel once again. Israel was attacked, yet not only defended its borders. It recaptured territory in the regions of Yehuda and Shomron that had been purchased by the JNF and then lost in the war of independence. It liberated Sinai, and then returned this for peace.
Yom Yerushaliem has become a distinctly religious day of nationalistic identity for modern Israel. Hundreds of thousands of people dance in the street, and the City dreams of its central role in bringing forward the end of exile.
In Perth there was only one publically advertised community event for Yom Yerushaliem. It is sad that this had to be within a Shule, and not a community wide occasion under the banner of the State Zionist Council. Nonetheless, the function that did take place was well supported and a huge amount of effort by the Torah MiTzion bachurim saw that the occasion was suitably celebrated.
This weekend the Perth Jewish community will talk about confronting anti-semitism. So much expression of modern anti-Semitism comes through an attempted distinction between Judaism and Zionism. For many Jews the religious and nationalistic bind between the two are inseparable. Jerusalem has been the focal point of Jewish life since its inception. Jerusalem is the physical link between our world and its creator. Jerusalem is eternal to the ancestors of King David, and open to all of humanity.
Here are some wonderful words from Rabbi Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK, in his parshat hashavua this week:
Israel, alone among the nations of world history, received its constitution even before it had entered its land. There is no analogy to this anywhere else. For every other nation, the land long preceded the laws. A people live in a certain territory. Gradually they begin to associate in ever larger groupings. They fight wars, build settlements, adopt leaders, develop a political structure, and then create a body of legislation to regulate their affairs. Nations develop organically like plants, with their roots in a soil, a landscape. In the history of Israel, and nowhere else, the nation received its laws in the wilderness, before it had even seen, let alone settled, the land. This is one of the great paradoxes of Judaism.
On the one hand, the Jewish story is about the land of Israel. It begins with Abraham’s journey toward it. It continues with a second journey in the days of Moses, with the family now become a people. Judaism is a religion of place: the holy land, the physical location in which the people of the covenant are summoned to create a sacred society based on justice and compassion, human dignity and freedom. It was to be stand in the greatest possible contrast to the great empires with which it was surrounded – nations predicated on demographic strength and military power, tyrannical regimes and hierarchical societies with absolute rulers and populations measured in the mass, not the worth of the individual. Judaism has a home, a place where it belongs.
Yet most of Jewish history was spent outside that home. Abraham was forced, by famine, into exile. So was Jacob. Genesis ends with the patriarchal family in Egypt. Deuteronomy ends with Moses in sight of the promised land but not destined to enter it. Jewish history is a story of exiles – to Assyria, then Babylon, then the long series of dispersions from the Roman conquest to the birth of the modern State of Israel in 1948. As Isaiah Berlin noted: ‘It was once said by the celebrated Russian revolutionary, Alexander Herzen, writing in the mid-nineteenth century, that the Slavs had no history, only geography. The position of the Jews is the reverse of this. They have enjoyed rather too much history and too little geography’ (The Power of Ideas, p. 143).
This paradox is essential to Judaism and what makes it unique among the world’s faiths. On the one hand, the G-d of Israel is utterly unlike the gods of the ancient world. He is not confined to this place, that nation: He is everywhere. Yet He is not remote, abstract. He has a home – or, to put it more precisely, He lives among a people that has a home. That is why Judaism is attached to a holy land – but at the same time it remains G-d’s people even when in exile from the land.