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Yom Haatzmaut Meditation

On Friday, May 6 we observed Yom Yaatzmaut.  I wrote a meditation exploring our 3,000 year connection to the city of Jerusalem.  In this meditation I explored this history through the Bible, Siddur, medieval poetry and modern songs.  Natalie Tenenbaum composed a beautiful musical piece for piano and clarinet, expertly played by Vasko Dukovski, to give expression to my words and the varied texts I selected.  The voice of the clarinet especially gave expression to those joyful times, like the present, when we can touch the land.  The chords of the piano helped to give voice to the words of the prayerbook and poets.  What follows is a brief excerpt from the meditation’s conclusion. 

Then in our own day the dream is realized.  There are no more dangers of sea travel.  We can board a plane and in less than one day touch the soil of eretz yisrael, the land and cities our ancestors only dreamed of.  The place is different than the dreams of our prayerbooks and poets.   The earthly is not all dreams, but the baruch of successive generations keeps it alive in our hearts.  L’hiyot am chofshi b’artzeinu.  To be a free people in our own land.

The poet of the modern age is Yehudah Amichai.  He too writes about women and love.  He also writes poem after poem about the city in which he lives, Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a merry-go-round-and-round
From the Old City through all the neighborhoods and back to the Old.
And you can’t get off.  Whoever jumps off puts his life on the line
And whoever gets off at the final round has to pay again
To get back on for the rounds that have no end.
And instead of elephants and painted horses to ride,
There are religions that go up and down and turn on their axis
To the music of oily tunes from the houses of prayer.
Jerusalem is a seesaw; sometimes I dip down
Into past generations, sometimes I rise up to the skies and then
I shriek like a child, feet swinging on high:
I want down, Daddy, I want down,
Abba, get me down.
And that’s how the saints all ascend to heaven,
Like a child screaming, Daddy, I want to stay up here.
Abba, don’t get me down, Avinu Malkeinu,
Leave us up here, Avinu Malkeinu.
And there are days here when everything is sails and more sails,
Even though there’s no sea in Jerusalem, not even a river.
Everything is sails: the flags, the tallisim, the black coats,
The monks’ robes, the kaftans and kaffiyehs,
Young women’s dresses and headdresses,
Torah mantles and prayer rugs, feelings that swell in the wind
And hopes that set them sailing in other directions.
Even my father’s hands, spread out in blessing
[Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va-ed.]
My mother’s broad face and Ruth’s faraway death
Are sails, all of them sails in the splendid regatta
On the two seas of Jerusalem:
The sea of memory and the sea of forgetting.

Amicha writes poem after poem.  How to reconcile the dreams with the reality?  How does the heavenly Jerusalem mingle with the earthly?

In the Spring of 1967 Jerusalem’s mayor, Teddy Kollek, organized a song competition.  The theme was Jerusalem.  Naomi Shemer submitted a song, “Jerusalem of Gold.”  The song won the competition at the Musical Festival celebrating Israel’s nineteen years of statehood.  Three weeks later, in the early days of June, Israel won the Six Day War and captured Jerusalem’s Old City from the Jordanians.  The song immediately became the anthem for the war.  The image of crying soldiers standing at the Western Wall became part of the Jewish people’s collective memory.  

Shemer added a new concluding verse:
We have returned to the cisterns,
to the market and to 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.
Yerushalayim shel zahav,
Jerusalem of gold, of bronze, and of light,
am I not a harp and lyre for all your songs.

We have stood on Jerusalem’s walls.  We have said with prior generations:
Baruch shem kavo malchuto l’olam va-ed.

Our generation is the same, yet different.  Our Jerusalem is happiness built on ruins. Many still cry and lament for what was lost.  They mourn for dreams unrealized, prayers unfulfilled, for a Temple and its sacrifices still not restored.  I instead will only say a blessing for what has been gained.  I will no longer mourn. I will revel in the songs of thousands and thousands of Jews.  I will rejoice that we have returned to this city, the city of Jerusalem, a city of heaven and earth.  I will recall that today, in this unique and blessed age, Jerusalem is no longer in ruins. There may very well be untold ruins beneath the feet. But there is no ruin in the air. Jerusalem is happiness built on ruins.

From Solomon until now one unbroken chain.  Sometimes a cry.  Sometimes a song. 
Always the word Baruch.  Always the people said as one: Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va-ed.  We say with our people: Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va-ed.

We say today a blessing.  We are again a free people in our own land, standing again in our city of Jerusalem.