Jerusalem: City of Miracles, City of Tears

By Rabbi Sharon Brous

My Jewish spirit was awakened in Jerusalem. I have lived there, learned there and worked there, and I return every year to be inspired by the magic and soul of the city. It is clear that Jerusalem is Israel’s sacred capital, and for thousands of years has been the beating heart of the Jewish spiritual and moral imagination.

It is also clear that Jerusalem is a deeply divided city. The place at the foundation of thousands of years of great Jewish dreams is also the spiritual home for millions of Christians and Muslims, whose holy sites dot the landscape of the city. And it is the actual home for several hundred thousand Palestinians, most of whom live in the gray area of “permanent residency” that renders them citizens of no nation and denies them the rights and freedoms of their Jewish neighbors.

It is precisely because of this complicated reality that this week’s unilateral decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem—reversing decades of bipartisan foreign policy that unofficially understood Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital but deferred Embassy relocation until the conclusion of peace negotiations—was reckless, heedless and ultimately counter-productive.

The context matters immensely: who is behind this and why was this step taken now?

It has been understood for 70 years that Jerusalem is the most fragile city in the most volatile region of the world, and that any change to the status quo could throw our holiest, most tender and tightest quarters into chaos and unrest. Therefore, any change must be undertaken only with the greatest care.

Consider, then, who is advancing this agenda today: a President who ran on a campaign of racialized bigotry, who promoted hate-mongers to unprecedented positions of authority in the Oval Office, who issued a Muslim ban one week into his presidency, and just last week retweeted widely discredited anti-Muslim hate propaganda. Never has our nation seen a President so unapologetically consumed by animus towards Islam.

The President called this move “a long overdue step to advance the peace process.” But it does not advance the peace process; it undermines it, by needlessly inflaming already heightened passions and rendering the United States unable to act as an honest broker in the effort to bring peace to the region. Sadly, it is Israelis and Palestinians who will pay the price.

We need to call this what it is: a cynical political maneuver designed to placate the hardliners (here and there) and distract Americans from the chaos reigning at home, particularly the federal investigation for obstruction of justice and the Alabama senate race next week, in which the President has now given full-throated endorsement to a child sexual predator. We must not stand for this.

It is said that two righteous men, Abraham and Shem, called Jerusalem by two different names. One called it Yir’eh—meaning God will show—and the other, Shalem—meaning wholeness. God did not want either to feel wronged, so compromised and called the city Yir’eh Shalem, or Yerushalem (Bereishit Rabbah).

This city, which has seen so many miracles and so many tears, is intended to be a place not of sanctimonious grandstanding, but of holy compromise. It’s built into the very foundation of the place. When those who stake a claim on the city are righteous, there is room for everyone.

From the depths of my heart, I pray that we’re able to avert violence in the coming days, and hope that Israeli and Palestinian leaders step forward in a determined effort to usher in an era of peace.

Rabbi Sharon Brous is a leading voice in reanimating religious life in America, working to develop a spiritual roadmap for soulful, multi-faith justice work in Los Angeles and around the country.  Brous is the senior and founding rabbi of IKAR and an Auburn Senior Fellow.


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