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Jewish Journal

We have the right to an indivisible Jerusalem

by Rabbi Dov Fischer

November 1, 2007 | 8:00 pm

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky invites a forthright open dialogue, a conversation about Jerusalem. Contemplating Israeli talks with those governing the autonomous Arab enclaves of Judea and Samaria -- Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestine Authority -- Rabbi Kanefsky writes that it is time for us to be honest about the story of Jerusalem. Employing the pages of The Jewish Journal, he particularly challenges those in the Orthodox Zionist community to converse, to be honest about Jerusalem.

I accept his invitation in these pages for this dialogue, for this discussion, for this honest telling of our claim to an eternally undivided capital city of Jerusalem.

Ever since I learned to pray, I learned about Jerusalem. In time as a boy, I learned to pray three times every day in my "Sh'moneh Esrai" prayer for the return to and the rebuilding of united Jerusalem. Since childhood, every time I have eaten a meal with bread, I have recited prayers of thanks for the food -- and for the rebuilding of united Jerusalem. If I eat a cookie, I follow with a prayer of thanks -- and for the rebuilding of Jerusalem.

I am not unique. For 2,000 years and more, my people have cried for Jerusalem and laughed for her. As much as I have come to love America in my lifetime -- because this country has been so good to me and my people -- I have no clue what day on the calendar the British burned the White House during the War of 1812. But I know that it was on the ninth of Av that the Babylonians burned the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. And it was the same day that Rome burned the rebuilt Temple.

This is where honesty begins in my dialogue with Rabbi Kanefsky. It may sound militaristic to him or strangely uncompromising. But my claim to Jerusalem is eternal and unyielding to a Jerusalem indivisible and united, because no one in my family line, going back to the beginning of the exile, ever yielded our claim to Jerusalem.

We were driven out by Babylonians, and we outlasted them and returned. We were exiled by Romans, and we outlasted them and returned. They built an Arch of Titus in Italy to glorify in taking down our Jerusalem, and we have outlived them and their empire, and we have returned.

We got married, and we broke a glass under the chuppah to remember a Jerusalem that had fallen, even as we recited the blessing moments earlier under that same canopy that the day will come when, once again, the sounds of joy and gladness, the celebrations of the groom and bride, will be heard in Jerusalem and her outskirts.

No one compromises on capital cities. America moved her capital around -- from Philadelphia to New York to Washington, D.C. -- but she never offered to split it with the British or Jefferson Davis. No one offers to split Damascus or Beirut or Cairo or Baghdad for peace. No one offers to split Paris or London or Madrid or Prague.

Even the experience with Berlin is instructive. The world forced onto the Germans -- veritably shoved it right down their throats -- the division of Berlin. It barely lasted half a century before the wall came down and the city was reunited.

We owe no apologies, no explanations. From 1948 to 1967, King Hussein of Jordan wrongfully was regnant over East Jerusalem. He made no effort to treat it as New Amman. Nor did any Arab ruler in all of history before him ever act to make Jerusalem a capital.

Jerusalem simply was not and never has been all that central to Arabia or Islam. Muslim prayers are directed toward Mecca and Medina. By contrast, praying from my locus in Southern California, I face east toward Jerusalem.

There is a corruption in the dialogue when I am challenged to speak "honestly" in defense of my right to see Jerusalem remain the eternally indivisible capital of Israel and the Jewish People. The Jews came back to Jerusalem with no less right than did America march to Washington, D.C.

If there is something wrong with entering a city by liberating it in battle, then it was equally wrong for any Arab conqueror before Israel to have entered the same city. But if a military victory places Arab negotiators at the table and drives out the British, who drove out the Ottomans, then a Jewish army's successful victory in a war of self-defense trumps all other secular-based claims to "right over might."

Because, despite any revisionist attempt to rewrite what happened in 1967, the fact remains that Israel was not looking to expand her borders but to live. And in 1948, she compromised so much more than any other nation has compromised, just to gain the ratification of a U.N. body that never has been in Israel's pocket.

Rabbi Kanefsky's call for honest conversation, for honesty from Orthodox Zionists, is an invitation to recall how the dialogue even came to begin. It began because Jews and our institutions and landmarks were driven out by marauders. And the Arab world, primarily the Jordanians, aimed to eradicate what was left.

There were synagogues in Jerusalem -- the Ramban Synagogue, the Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, shuls all over East Jerusalem -- that Jordan razed to the ground. They converted one venerable shul to a cheese factory, another to a stall for goats. They uprooted tombstones from the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives and used them for pavement, for construction, even for latrines. They banned us from the Western Wall.

Jerusalem belonged to my ancestors. It belonged to my grandparents in Poland and Russia. It belongs to me. That's the honest story.


Rabbi Dov Fischer, a member of the Rabbinical Council of California and former national vice president of the Zionist Organization of America, is adjunct professor of Law at Loyola Law School. He is author of "General Sharon's War Against Time Magazine." A former chief articles editor of UCLA Law Review, he now is the rabbi at an Orthodox Union congregation in Orange County.
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