Published in The Jerusalem Post, May 22, 2020; and in Israel Hayom, May 25, 2020.
To be a “Doresh Tzion,” a seeker of Jerusalem, is to stake material, spiritual and national claims to the city. A column marking Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Liberation Day, which is today).
The Talmud derives the obligation of Derishat Tzion, of seeking Zion, from Jeremiah (30:17): “I will restore you to health, and heal your wounds, says the Lord; because (the nations of the world) called you an ‘Outcast,’ (scornfully) saying: This is Zion, for whom no one cares.”
Thus, to be a Doresh Yerushalayim means showing the nations of the world that Zion/Jerusalem (the two terms are interchangeable) is no longer abandoned. The Jewish People (and their G-d) can no longer be scorned as outcasts from Zion. The returning Jewish People cares about Israel; is invested in, and willing to sacrifice for, Israel. Zionists are rebuilding Jerusalem to magnificent heights.
But note: The fortunate citizens of the restored capital of the Jewish People under Israeli sovereignty still have a great deal of derisha, of seeking and building, to do.
In the first instance, this means paying more attention to Jerusalem. To be more involved, to build and develop, never to take for granted. To visit. According to one survey, an amazing 50% of 18-year old Israelis have never visited the national capital. Indeed, many high schools have stopped taking school trips to Jerusalem. Only the IDF brings young recruits to the capital, often for their first time.
Excepting primary schools, Religious Zionist hesder yeshivas, and the Bnei Akiva Religious Zionist youth movement, not too many Israelis take much note of Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day (which is today) – missing an opportunity to step forward and rediscover our historic national lodestone. Making Jerusalem Day a formal civic holiday, like Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day), is long overdue.
This also means that Israel must rule generously and fairly in Jerusalem. Investment in neglected eastern Jerusalem is the core of sovereign political action that will keep Jerusalem whole and make it prosperous for all. The city also needs a minimum of 6,000 new apartments a year just to keep up with natural growth and to repopulate the city with young families – and we are nowhere near that number.
Derisha also means imposition of a moral obligation, the requirement to live up to a certain standard that is built-into the DNA of the city. “Zion shall be redeemed in justice, and her returnees in righteousness” (Isaiah 1:37).
We must ask ourselves: Have we brought sufficient justice to Jerusalem? Are we sensitive enough to the plight of the poor, the unemployed, the orphan, the battered woman and new immigrant? Is our justice system sufficiently suffused with knowledge of Jewish values, alongside democratic norms? Are we doing all we can to achieve domestic peace; reconciliation and compromise with our neighbors and fellow Israelis?
Seeking Jerusalem also means the search for G-d, the quest to uncover existential-metaphysical layers of holiness. Here in Jerusalem the gates to heaven open before all, allowing for an encounter with something that is beyond human rationality.
Thus, we are obligated to be Doresh Yerushalayim, to spiritually refine ourselves and draw closer to He who truly owns Jerusalem, even while standing in the rebuilt city. Yes, indeed, the Divine Presence peeps out from the Temple Mount through the cracks of the Western Wall, there to be felt and experienced, if we only seek this.
But ultimately, the seeking of Jerusalem at this moment involves the demand of a surety, the demand of title, the staking of a claim. United Jerusalem is ours, the capital of this ancient-modern State of Israel, and no-one else’s.
This is the Jewish People’s political, practical demand of the nations of the world: Recognize our birthright, accept our claim, for we will not compromise over Jerusalem. This is our ultimate red line. The redivision of Jerusalem, even the sharing of sovereignty, is incompatible with our identity.
Moreover, the violent bisection of Jerusalem would be patently unwise, exceedingly unfair to Jewish history, and an undue insult to Israel’s fine stewardship of the city. Nor will it lead to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Just the opposite is true. A partitioned Jerusalem will die, leading to violence that sucks the lifeblood from the city in every way – culturally, religiously, economically, and more.
Let’s be even blunter: Israel has developed Jerusalem as an attractive city – from a backwater town to a truly radiant international capital city sparkling with energy and creativity, and open to all faiths – because it cares. Because Jerusalem is the historic centerpiece of Jewish peoplehood and of the modern State of Israel.
The Arabs and Palestinians, however, do not really care about Jerusalem. They never have. In fact, they would consider it a triumph if Jerusalem were so wracked by conflict and poverty that it was ruined for 1,000 years. As long as it would be lost to the Jews.
Therefore, Israel must declare clearly and proudly: A united Jerusalem under exclusive Israeli sovereignty is the key, not an obstacle, to peace and security in the city.
Ambassador Rabbi Dr. Yaacov Herzog (1921-1972) once told the story of Apollo 10, whose astronaut captain asked his parish priest to read several Psalms while the capsule orbited the moon. Some of the Psalms he requested understandably spoke of creation, but one related to Jerusalem which has been “rebuilt and reunited” and where those who pray for the peace of Jerusalem “shall prosper” (Psalm 122).
Why Jerusalem? Herzog explained that astronauts look for an anchor in space, something around which to organize their surroundings. At that moment, trying to pin down his feelings and define himself, the Apollo captain looked for a place that gave him a link to some earthly structure while reflecting his uplifted feelings in endless spirit – and he naturally chose Jerusalem.
To the nations of the world, we say this: The absolutism inherent in our claim to Jerusalem is unshakably anchored in Jewish history and identity. From Jerusalem the Jewish People made its way to all corners of the earth and returned. And ultimately, the Jew can live in contemporary society only if he is touched by the eternity of his destiny.
So, call us uncompromising, call us fundamentalist or obstructionist, what you will. But do not force Israel to make a choice. For if push comes to shove that choice already has been made: We choose Jerusalem.