Thursday, May 21, 2009

Yom Yerushalayim

A few weeks before Israel's 1967 Six Day War Naomi Shemer submitted her now famous song entry, Yerushalayim shel Zahav, to the Independence Day song competition. The theme for that year, at the insistence of Teddy Kollek, was Jerusalem. Jerusalem of Gold was performed on May 15 and became an instant sensation. Interestingly the first version of the song did not contain any mention of the Old City. By the time of the competition, and at the suggestion of friends, Shemer added the second verse about the empty market places and the Jewish longing for the Temple Mount's Western Wall. A few weeks later the IDF's soldiers stood at the Wall and cried. The army's chief rabbi blew the shofar and those gathered there broke out into song, singing Jerusalem of Gold. In a few short weeks the song had become the war's anthem, its hopes and longings a new reality. Shemer composed a new and final verse: "We have returned to the cisterns, to the market and the square. A shofar calls out on the Temple Mount in the Old City. And in the caves in the rock, thousands of suns shine. We will once again descend to the Dead Sea by way of Jericho." These verses were not without controversy. Amos Oz, for example, criticized Shemer for suggesting that the city was empty until Jews returned. Arabs of course lived there and continue to live in Jerusalem. The Old City's Arab shuk continues to bustle with activity. Yet something had indeed changed. During the years 1948-1967 Jews could not pray at the Western Wall. Jews could not walk among the ruins of King David's palace. There was an emptiness in our hearts. There is no more longing for these stones. Every summer I return to Jerusalem to rekindle the fires in my Jewish heart. Indeed the air there is as "clear as wine and filled with the fragrance of pine." Yet I share Amos Oz's worries. What happens to a people when they get what they most wanted for thousands of years? Every day I thank God that I am privileged to live in an age when the dreams of my great grandparents is my reality. The question remains: is there room in my dreams for another's reality?

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