On Israel Independence Day 1967 two things happened which now seem like prophecies. In the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva, Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook gave an historic speech in which he lamented: "Where is our Hebron, where is our Shechem?” And that night, at the Israeli Song Festival, an unknown singer named Shuli Natan got up and sang for the first time what would later become Israel's all-time favorite song – Naomi Shemer's "Jerusalem of Gold - Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" which stirred the hearts of an entire country with longing to return to Jerusalem's Old City and the Temple Mount.
Just three weeks later, Hebron, the Old City, and the heartland of Biblical Israel, were suddenly and miraculously restored to the Jewish People.
Sunday is Yom Yerushalayim, celebrating the 52nd anniversary of the Israeli victory in the Six Day War. As a Floridian, I am especially proud this week as Governor Ron DeSantis, while making good on his campaign promise to visit Israel on his first foreign trip, made history by convening a Cabinet meeting in the US Embassy in Jerusalem. Earlier this year, the Florida Cabinet issued a proclamation declaring Jerusalem as “Israel’s eternal and undivided capital.”
On the same day that Florida’s Cabinet met in Jerusalem, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif made the news with his most recent untrue tweet: “Al-Quds (Jerusalem) is neither America's to give away nor Israel's to take.” I partially agree with Zarif, in that Israel cannot take Jerusalem, for you cannot take something that already belongs to you. We must call out those who espouse untrue histories about Israel and Jerusalem. Specifically we must push back on and reject the narrative that the Jewish right to Israel is a result of the Holocaust. The Jewish claims to Israel and Jerusalem go back 4,000 years (when God promised the Land to Avraham), not 75 years.
David Ben Gurion once said, “If a land can have a soul, Jerusalem is the soul of the Land of Israel.” Throughout the 2,000 years of Jewish exile and dispersal, the Jewish People never forgot Jerusalem. In the immediate aftermath of the First Temple’s destruction, 2,500 years ago, the author of Psalm 137 declared, “If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning.” This quote has remained relevant and the lived experience of Jews ever since.
As happy as we are to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, it is also a time to note that the full potential of Jerusalem has yet to be realized. In Tehillim 122 we note
Yerushalayim Habenuyah k’ir shechubra la yachdav
The built-up city of Jerusalem is like a city that is united
Jerusalem continues to be built-up. As much as I love visiting that which already exists in Jerusalem, I am always excited to count the number of cranes one sees across the Jerusalem skyline. And yet the city still lacks a unity among its inhabitants: secular and religious, and even differences within the religious Jewish communities.
Today on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Muslims are free to worship, but Jews and Christians are barred from praying on that site. Yet In Isaiah (56:7) the prophet refers to a future time when the Temple Mount will be available for prayer for all nations, as it was in the days of the Beit Hamikdash
כִּ֣י בֵיתִ֔י בֵּית־תְּפִלָּ֥ה יִקָּרֵ֖א לְכָל־הָֽעַמִּֽים:
for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples
On Yom Yerushalayim let us express our gratitude for our connection and access to Jerusalem today, even as we pray for the realization of Jerusalem’s full potential in the future.