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What Is Our Dream of Zion?


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Jerusalem has a special quality. Those who visit it, never forget the color of the stone reflecting the light of the sun, most especially at dawn and sunset. And the stones speak; they tell stories of the ages: of medievals who walked the city, crusaders who built its walls, of Maccabbees who built aqueducts to the city, of biblical kings who carved underground water tunnels, of prophets who railed outside the Temple gates. The first time I lived in Jerusalem, my window looked out at an Arab mosque Nebi Samuel, in the distance, where by legend the prophet Samuel was buried. Whether it is true or not that this is his burial site, he did walk somewhere in this vicinity and it is the closest I will physically get to him. With the past so present, the present so teeming, life is more intense in Jerusalem. And looking down at the Temple Mount from the Tayelet or from Mount Scopus I feel that I am viewing the most beautiful sight on earth. There are times when I visit Israel that I never want to leave.

I was in Jerusalem in 1966 before the old city was captured in the ’67 war. The city was divided by barbed wire; for Israelis, the Jewish holy sites were cut off from visiting. I had arrived in West Jerusalem through the Mandelbaum Gate. I had visited the Wall under Jordanian occupation where a guard asked me whether I knew why it was called the Wailing Wall? I pretended innocence and he answered his own question: Before 1948 Jews came here and cried because of the loss of their Temple, now they cry because they cannot come here.

And then in 1967, I joined with Israelis marching to the Wall as it was opened to the public for the first time after the Six Day War. It was Shavuot and I went to Reb Arele’s shtebul where I knew people would be gathered for evening study. I had visited there often during my year of study and wanted to ask them if although they were anti-Zionist , were they not happy that now they could freely go to the wall. When I asked him this question, the shammas replied: Do you think that that pile of stones is the Messiah?

Over the years I’ve pondered his reply and felt that it was not simply a riposte, the studied reaction of a committed anti-Zionist, but that his remark contained a kernel of theological sophistication. Each day traditional Jews pray for the rebuilding of Jerusalem – what is imagined in that prayer?

It is certainly a dream of return – a national dream. It is a dream fashioned in exile of throwing off oppression and being master of one’s fate, of once again walking with heads held high through the streets of Jerusalem. Judah Halevi’s journey from Spain to Israel with its mythical moment of dying upon reaching Jerusalem symbolizes this yearning through the ages to, in the words of the Hatikvah, once again be a free people in our own land.

But the prayer for the return to Jerusalem is also attached to a larger vision. It is a prayer for peace. The ending of Jewish suffering is part of an end to all suffering. The dream of Jerusalem is a dream of peace; it is contained in the very name of Jerusalem, as the psalmist says, “seek the peace of Jerusalem,” and as Psalm 76 envisions: “God’s tent is in Salem, God’s dwelling in Zion, there God shattered the bows “‘flaming arrows, shields and swords, war itself.’”

But it is the prophet Isaiah (ch. 2) who draws the most vivid images of the promised peace of Jerusalem:  ”In the days to come, The Mount of the Lord’s House shall stand firm above the mountains and tower above the hills; and all the nations shall gaze on it with joy. And the many peoples shall go and say: Come, Let us go up to the Mount of the Lord, to the House of the God of Jacob; that God may instruct the way and that we may walk in God’s paths. For instructions shall come forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Thus God will judge among the nations and arbitrate for the many peoples and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks: nations shall not take up sword against nation; and they shall never again know war.”

Similarly, it is not only with peace that Jerusalem is identified but with justice. Biblical theology and in turn the prayer book cannot imagine a restoration that is not accompanied by a societal transformation. In the prayer book the prayer for Jerusalem is preceded by a prayer for righteous judges and righteous judgment.

The person with clean hands, who walks through life honestly, who does what is right and whose heart speaks the truth. And Isaiah says that God promises: “I will restore your magistrates as of old and your counselors as of yore. After that you shall be called City of Righteousness, Faithful City.

In other words the return to the city, the religious dream of triumph cannot be separated from the behavior which is righteous. And biblically, righteousness is always understood in the classic prophetic categories: the protection of the widow and the orphan, the most vulnerable people in society, and yes, the stranger who dwells amongst you.

Today, the rhetoric of the restoration of Jerusalem ought not to be separated from the yearning for righteousness, justice and peace. The nationalist takeover of the dream of Jerusalem – the identification of restoration with possession – lays claim to only a part of the classic dream of Jerusalem and in doing so distorts classic Jewish values. Equally, it is a distortion of the modern Zionist dream for it ignores the animating vision of utilizing the opportunity to return to our land to create a society different than that which defined Jewish oppression. The new Jewish man and woman that Zionism was to birth was one who was not oppressed and did not oppress others. That was what fostered the ideology of kibbutz, the ideology of Jewish labor, and the ideology of tohar haneshek, right behavior in time of war.

To deal justly when defining the future of Jerusalem is a restoration of the Zionist dream for those of us here who were attracted to Zionism did so out of a dual commitment: A dream of the wholeness of the Jewish people and a dream that when we had power we would exercise it justly, that we would demonstrate to the world a different way of being.

Is there a way forward that both acknowledges Jewish national yearnings and also its idealistic dreams?

There are some simple principles of social justice that ought to be implemented. The disproportionate home demolitions of Arab houses must stop. Arab neighborhoods ought to be permitted to build to the same degree as Jewish neighborhoods. City planning ought to allow for the expansion of Arab neighborhoods just as it does for Jewish neighborhoods.

The Arab sections of Jerusalem should receive the same city services as those of Jewish parts of Jerusalem. Mental health facilities and medical clinics need to be located in Arab neighborhoods. Garbage collection ought to be the same throughout the city. These are matters of sheer decency.

A fairer distribution of services and funding would be possible if Jerusalem were divided into a system of boroughs, thus allowing Arab neighborhoods a voice in their own rule and the ability to represent themselves. Arab neighborhoods would be able to provide for their own needs and priorities if funds were distributed equally to each of the boroughs.

As we look toward a final settlement, we might imagine the internationalization of the holy basin. The leaked negotiations between Ehud Olmert and Mahmud Abbas envisioned a community of nations as guardians of the holy basin. Such a solution might well fulfill a prophetic dream, for Isaiah imagines a time when representatives of all peoples will come up to Jerusalem and become priests in God’s Temple. Isaiah says: And out of all the nations, said the Lord, they shall bring all your brothers on horses, in chariots and drays, on mules and dromedaries, to Jerusalem My holy mountain as an offering to the Lord – just a the Israelites bring an offering in a pure vessel to the House of the Lord. And from them likewise I will take some to be levitical priests, said the Lord.

We might well ask: Do we sufficiently believe in our own prophetic rhetoric and allow ourselves to dream of what a real peace might look like? Perhaps, symbolically, some United Nations organizations might move to Jerusalem and thus we would truly be able to think of Jerusahem as an international city. Perhaps Jerusalem, as a common symbol of the Abrahamic faiths, can become a place of dialogue between the various religions.

Jerusalem brings front and center the question: What is our dream of Zion? Certainly it is a national dream – but ought it not also not be a call to righteousness, justice and peace? Isn’t this Zionist dream yet to be fulfilled — in a Jerusalem on earth which looks heavenward?



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