Cry, Beloved City!
By Naomi Ragen
(December 28, 2000)
the first time I saw Jerusalem.
I was a young bride, and I'd been in the country for only a few days. My husband and I took a bus from our absorption center in Kfar Habad. As we wound our way through the forests, higher and higher, I finally glimpsed it in the distance: a white, shining vision hovering somewhere between heaven and earth.
My heart contracted the magical way it does, I suppose, when you glimpse the person you sense will be the love of your life.
Jerusalem was more a prayer than a place; a direction in which to turn one's most exalted spiritual longings.
"Next year in Jerusalem" we said every Pessah. I meant it.
When I arrived at long last, the fact that the reality did not fall short of my dreams was nothing less than miraculous. How can you explain to someone what it means for a believing Jew to touch the last remaining stones of the Holy Temple, God's chosen dwelling place on earth?
Under pre-1967 Arab control, the Wall was off-limits to Jews; the Jewish Quarter was destroyed; and Jewish graves on the Mount of Olives were desecrated, the gravestones used to pave roads. The Six Day War put an end to all that. Jews and Moslems could visit Jerusalem's holy places undisturbed.
On my first visit to Jerusalem, I walked though the Arab bazaars and visited the stores on the eastern side of the city. There was graciousness in the shopkeepers, and a sense of serenity. Over time, we all forgot what it was like when the city was divided. We let the wounds from the vandalism of Jewish holy places under Moslem control heal.
As the years went by, I saw life in the city gradually change. Stabbings convinced us we were not welcome in the Arab part of Jerusalem, and we stopped going.
Arab Jerusalemites, however, felt no such discomfort. They were - and still are - frequent and welcome visitors to Jewish shops, ice-cream parlors and malls.
The first time a bus blew up in the center of Jerusalem, special burial volunteers had to scrape human flesh from second-story balconies in the center of town. It took days to wash the blood stains off Jerusalem's streets. And I thought: Only someone with no faith in God, no sense of the holiness of this, His City, could have allowed this unforgivable desecration. These people, and their supporters, have no rights in this city. No, no rights at all. Not to pass through its streets, to touch its stones, to breathe its air, or to whisper God's name in its holy places. They don't even have the right to enter their own holy places, which would be desecrated by their presence.
Five wars, and the entire Arab world had no power to wrest Jerusalem from the caring and respectful hands of the Jewish people. And now, the worst government in Israel's history, rejected by 80% of the public, is rushing to hand it over to Yasser Arafat.
I DON'T know why the world isn't connecting the dots: there were no Christmas celebrations of note in Bethlehem this year because Arafat controls the city, and his gunmen have turned the birthplace of Jesus into a battleground. In Indonesia this year, Moslems blew up Christian worshipers in their churches during Christmas Mass. If only the Moslems' fervent, militant respect for their own holy places extended to those of other faiths.
To such a man, and such a people, you do not turn over the well-being of some of the most sacred religious sites in the world. Certainly not after watching them plow under Joseph's Tomb and the ancient synagogue in Jericho.
You certainly don't give them any sovereignty over the Temple Mount, from which they can submachine-gun Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall. (And is anyone truly naive enough to think it won't happen once the Israeli army withdraws?)
Only, perhaps, the gang of four who are busy facilitating this sacrilege: Ehud Barak, Yossi Beilin, Shimon Peres and Yossi Sarid. Those avowed secular dreamers, whose vision of Israel is a bustling, godless industrial center like Hong Kong, are now aligned with the greedy, equally godless religious hypocrites such as Shas. Together, they've managed to reduce Jerusalem to one more casino chip thrown with reckless abandon onto the gambling table on which they have already lost our security, our peace of mind, and our moral and historic claim to this place, the epicenter of 3,000 years of Jewish faith, hopes and dreams.
It is an illegal act of the most profound immorality. It will not go unchallenged. And those responsible will never be forgiven.
Yet, despite the despair of these terrible times, as a long-time Jerusalemite, I cannot but hope that there will be another Hanukka miracle; a light ignited in the darkness from an almost empty jug of hope.
"For if I forget thee O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning."