Sunday, May 20, 2012

Letter to the World From Jerusalem


   Today is Yom Yerushalayim.  45 years ago Israeli soldiers with God's help liberated the Old City and placed it under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in nearly 2000 years.  I am posting an "open letter to the world from Jerusalem" written two years later.  Like Jerusalem itself, it is as timely today as it was in the beginning.

Letter to the World From Jerusalem
by Eliezer Ben Yisrael (Stanley Goldfoot)

I am not a creature from another planet, as you seem to believe.

I am a Jerusalemite - like yourselves, a man of flesh and blood.

I am a citizen of my city, an integral part of my people.

I have a few things to get off my chest. Because I am not a diplomat, I do not have to mince words. I do not have to please you or even persuade you. I owe you nothing.

You did not build this city, you did not live in it, you did not defend it when they came to destroy it.

And we will be damned if we will let you take it away.

There was a Jerusalem before there was a New York.

When Berlin, Moscow, London, and Paris were miasmal forest and swamp, there was a thriving Jewish community here. It gave something to the world which you nations have rejected ever since you established yourselves - a humane moral code.

Here the prophets walked, their words flashing like forked lightning.

Here a people who wanted nothing more than to be left alone, fought off waves of heathen would-be conquerors, bled and died on the battlements, hurled themselves into the flames of their burning Temple rather than surrender, and when finally overwhelmed by sheer numbers and led away into captivity, swore that before they forgot Jerusalem, they would see their tongues cleave to their palates, their right arms wither.

For two pain-filled millennia, while we were your unwelcome guests, we prayed daily to return to this city. Three times a day we petitioned the Almighty: "Gather us from the four corners of the world, bring us upright to our land, return in mercy to Jerusalem, Thy city, and dwell in it as Thou promised." On every Yom Kippur and Passover, we fervently voiced the hope that next year would find us in Jerusalem.

Your inquisitions, pogroms, expulsions, the ghettos into which you jammed us, your forced baptisms, your quota systems, your genteel anti-Semitism, and the final unspeakable horror, the holocaust (and worse, your terrifying disinterest in it)- all these have not broken us. They may have sapped what little moral strength you still possessed, but they forged us into steel. Do you think that you can break us now after all we have been through? Do you really believe that after Dachau and Auschwitz we are frightened by your threats of blockades and sanctions?

We have been to Hell and back- a Hell of your making. What more could you possibly have in your arsenal that could scare us?

I have watched this city bombarded twice by nations calling themselves civilized.

In 1948, while you looked on apathetically, I saw women and children blown to smithereens, after we agreed to your request to internationalize the city. It was a deadly combination that did the job - British officers, Arab gunners, and American-made cannon.

And then the savage sacking of the Old City-the willful slaughter, the wanton destruction of every synagogue and religious school, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the sale by a ghoulish government of tombstones for building materials, for poultry runs, army camps, even latrines.

And you never said a word.

You never breathed the slightest protest when the Jordanians shut off the holiest of our places, the Western Wall, in violation of the pledges they had made after the war- a war they waged, incidentally, against the decision of the UN. Not a murmur came from you whenever the legionnaires in their spiked helmets casually opened fire upon our citizens from behind the walls.

Your hearts bled when Berlin came under siege. You rushed your airlift "to save the gallant Berliners". But you did not send one ounce of food when Jews starved in besieged Jerusalem. You thundered against the wall which the East Germans ran through the middle of the German capital- but not one peep out of you about that other wall, the one that tore through the heart of Jerusalem.

And when that same thing happened 20 years later, and the Arabs unleashed a savage, unprovoked bombardment of the Holy City again, did any of you do anything?

The only time you came to life was when the city was at last reunited. Then you wrung your hands and spoke loftily of "justice" and need for the "Christian" quality of turning the other cheek.The truth - and you know it deep inside your gut - you would prefer the city to be destroyed rather than have it governed by Jews.

No matter how diplomatically you phrase it, the age old prejudices seep out of every word.

If our return to the city has tied your theology in knots, perhaps you had better reexamine your catechisms. After what we have been through, we are not passively going to accommodate ourselves to the twisted idea that we are to suffer eternal homelessness until we accept your savior.

For the first time since the year 70, there is now complete religious freedom for all in Jerusalem. For the first time since the Romans put a torch to the Temple, everyone has equal rights (You prefer to have some more equal than others.) We loathe the sword- but it was you who forced us to take it up. We crave peace, but we are not going back to the peace of 1948 as you would like us to.

We are home. It has a lovely sound for a nation you have willed to wander over the face of the globe. We are not leaving. We are redeeming the pledge made by our forefathers: Jerusalem is being rebuilt. "Next year" and the year after, and after, and after, until the end of time- "in Jerusalem"!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Palestine is Desolate

   In this month of mourning for the defeat and murderous persecutions at the hands of the Romans in 135C.E., and of rejoicing for the miracles experienced in our own time, it is instructive to go back 145 years, to Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad, first published in 1867.  Mark Twain’s book is based on  a tour of Europe and the Middle East that he took with some friends.  These quotes are taken from the Modern Library Edition, New York, 2003: 

Galilee:  (p.358) – There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent – not for thirty miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation.  One may ride ten miles, hereabouts, and not see ten human beings.

Tiberias (p.374) – They say that the long-nosed, lanky, dyspeptic-looking body-snatchers, with the indescribable hats on, and a long curl dangling down in front of each ear, are the old, familiar self-righteous Pharisees we read of in the Scriptures.  Verily, they look it.  Judging merely by their general style, and without other evidence, one might easily suspect that self-righteousness was their specialty. 

Entering Jerusalem (p.418) – Rags, wretchedness, poverty and dirt, those signs and symbols that indicate the presence of Moslem rule more surely than the crescent-flag itself, abound.  Lepers, cripples, the blind, and the idiotic, assail you on every hand. . . .Jerusalem is mournful, and dreary, and lifeless.  I would not desire to live there.

Summarizing (p.456) – Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince.  The hills are barren. . . .The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent.  . . .It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.. . . .Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes.  Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies.. . .Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village. . . .Palestine is desolate and unlovely. . . .Palestine is no more of this work-day world.  It is sacred to poetry and tradition – it is dream-land. 

   Tiberias’s self-righteous Pharisees?  Mark Twain is hardly the first Christian author to so egregiously misuse the word “Pharisee,” but that could be the topic of another post.  Dyspeptic-looking?  Well, at least they were not the fat slobs walking around Brooklyn today.  Transplanted to Meah She’arim or Beit Shemesh, they would fit right in with today’s haredim, many of whom are self-righteous and worse.  And these were the only Jews Mark Twain saw there, more’s the pity.  

   If he had traveled 20-30 years later, he would already have seen a different kind of Jew, strong broad-shouldered men (and more than a few women) laboring on the holy land, the land whose productivity Turks and British alike despaired of, but that yielded when watered with holy Jewish sweat.  He saw Palestine, a barren land. as lonely and desolate as Jeremiah describes in Megillat Eicha (the Scroll of Lamentations).  He saw a land that had not enjoyed political independence since 63 B.C.E., a land empty of people, since the much-ballyhooed “Palestinian Arabs” did not come until after 1917, i.e. after Jewish immigrants began to create living conditions conducive to human habitation.  

   If Mark Twain were to wake up today, he would see a modern prosperous independent nation, a Jerusalem steeped in holiness with more Torah learning going on than at any time in its long history, and simultaneously a living, breathing capital of a living, breathing country.  He would see (ro’im et ha-kolot) our ancient language once again on the lips of children, and on the lips of drill sergeants barking out their orders.  He would see the hustle and bustle of Tel-Aviv, and a concentration of brain power that gave the world countless advances in agriculture, high-tech and all fields of human endeavor.  I think he would marvel out loud, as many others have:  Are these people Jews?  Where did these come from?  Who gave birth to them?  (See Isaiah 49:21) 

   Palestine is desolate.  Even today, the areas controlled by the “Palestinian Authority” are barren.  Their people live in poverty and backwardness.  Men kill their own daughters and sisters for “dishonoring the family.”  Their leaders’ corruption and thievery make the worst Israeli and American politicians look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  Their children are taught not to pursue knowledge but to glorify and emulate suicide bombers, thus passing ignorance and backwardness to the next generation. 

   Palestine is desolate.  But Israel thrives and, please God, will continue to thrive until the unfolding ge’ula reaches its glorious conclusion.

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