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Jerusalem the eternal city, forever


The central focus of this week’s essay is a poem by one of our people’s most distinguished theologians and gifted interpreters of our religious tradition, Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopez Cardozo of Jerusalem, with the timely title, “O Jerusalem.”

With the issue of the political status of Jerusalem in the news today, I choose to preface Rabbi Cardozo’s tribute poem with a few observations by several distinguished and very spiritual people that should help reinforce the importance that Jerusalem plays in both the history of our people and that of the world as a whole.

The first piece is an essay titled, “The UN and Israel” by Rabbi Berel Wein of Jerusalem, wherein he teaches the following:

“The state of Israel and the United Nations have a long and tortured history in dealing one with the other. Some seventy years ago the General Assembly of the U.N. adopted a resolution that became the basis in international terms for the creation of Israel. The U.N. thereby became the godfather of the Jewish state.

“It was an unlikely combination of diplomacy and circumstance that allowed this to happen. The adoption of the partition plan for Palestine in 1947 was practically the only major issue upon which both the United States and much of the Western world combined with the Soviet Union and its satellite nations. The Arab world denounced that resolution and attempted a number of times to reverse its adoption by war and violence.

“The story of how the resolution was adopted and how many countries were swayed to vote for it has been told in many books, but no matter how many times this story is told it remains wondrous and even miraculous.”

Rabbi Wein’s eloquent words serve as the backdrop to events that are still unfolding unto this very day, especially at the UN. Yes, ancient events all play a role is setting up the model for a modern day Jewish state, Israel.

Consider the following from a recent essay by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks titled, “Rabbi Sacks on the Status of Jerusalem,” wherein he conveys this teaching from the Holy Bible:

“The sustained denial, in many parts of the world, of the Jewish connection with Jerusalem is dishonest, unacceptable and a key element in the refusal to recognize the Jewish people’s right to exist in the land of their origins. Mentioned over 660 times in the Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem was the beating heart of the Jewish faith more than a thousand years before the birth of Christianity, and two-and-a-half millennia before the birth of Islam.

“Since then, though dispersed around the world, Jews never ceased to pray about Jerusalem, face Jerusalem, speak the language of Jerusalem, remember it at every wedding they celebrated, in every home they built, and at the high and holiest moments of the Jewish year.

Now, please carefully consider this:

“Outside the U.N. building in New York is a wall bearing the famous words of Isaiah: ‘He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore’.”

Rabbi Sacks concludes:

“Too often the nations of the world forget the words that immediately precede these: ‘For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’

“Those words, spoken 27 centuries ago, remain the greatest of all prayers for peace, and they remain humanity’s best hope for peace in the Middle East and the world.”

And, please consider this observation from the former mayor of Lawrence, Martin Oliner, that appeared in an article entitled, “Recognizing All of Jerusalem, Here To Stay,” on the Jerusalem Post website:

“We Jews have yearned for Jerusalem for more than 1,800 years, and now it is miraculously back under our control. True salvation for Jerusalem will not come from DC but from us realizing that it is D.C. — David’s City, Ir David — and it is therefore our obligation to preserve, maintain, and cherish all of it.”

With the above as preface, please read with devotion the following poem dedicated to the holy city of Jerusalem, “O Jerusalem,” by Rabbi Nathan Lopez Cardozo.

Oh Jerusalem

By Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

I dwell in Jerusalem, my eternal city.

I stand at its heart, the Kotel, the Western Wall.

And see her frozen tears and everlasting smile,

Her clouds passing with mournful sighs.

Her pitying laughter at those who wanted to destroy her.

Or wished to deny her Jewish ancestry.

For thousands of years.

But did not succeed.

I read holy books,

And hundreds of thousands of names,

Those from Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Spain, Hungary, America and Africa.

I hear the cries from Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau,

And the playful delight of today’s Jewish children in Jerusalem’s courtyard.

I see the auto-da-fés, the Crusades,

The pogroms and the Roman torture chambers,

Mothers of all ages crying for their children.

But also, the Israeli flag with King David’s star.

As it waves above the stones.

Thousands of written prayers in the cracks of its walls.

I encounter the crying soldier, the sobbing stone-hard businessman,

The movie star, confused politician, housewife and Yeshiva student.

Yeshayahu stands next to me, Rabbi Akiva a bit further on.

My teachers: Maimonides, Yehudah Halevi, Hillel and Shamai.

Behind me the Gaon of Vilna, absorbed in his thoughts,

The Baal Shem Tov in deep devotion.

Men, women, and children.

Mitnagdim, Chassidim, Ethiopians,

Yemenites, Sephardim and Ashkenazim.

Jews of all colors.

And righteous gentiles.

There is no time, no clock,

No early or late, just broken eternity.

Standing but unable to grasp,

I say my tefilah-prayer.

Then truth descends upon me:

I have never left Jerusalem.

I find myself here for thousands of years.

The return to Jerusalem is unprecedented,

An event sui generis.

It defies comprehension.

The creation of the State of Israel is a surprise,

The survival of the Jewish people a shock.

A breach in a world where people do not want to be surprised.

And so … Jerusalem irritates.

The mighty Egyptian, Babylonian and Persian

Conquered the world with much fanfare, pomp and splendor,

And disappeared;

The Greek and the Roman followed

With their drumbeat and war carriages,

And died out;

Others came, holding their torch high,

Only to have it burn out.

The Jew saw them all,

Surpassed them all,

And became what he always was: immortal.

Oh, that Israel’s enemies would wake up!

When will they learn that Israel never left its homeland,

But was forced out against its will?

That Titus and his army were ultimately defeated by a nation of orphans,

By an ever-dying people that never died?

There is no victory for those who fight a people

That never ceased praying, for thousands of years,

To return to its capital which they never left.

Where their bodies were resurrected

After they were turned into ashes at Auschwitz.

What to do with a people that mourned for its Temple,

Rebuilding it in its hearts.

While sitting on the floor in deep mourning,

Year after year, thousands of times?

How to deal with a people that covers its dead?

With earth from the land of Israel.

While their tombstones stand in foreign countries?

How to defeat a people whose home in exile

Became a portable Land of Israel and its capital Jerusalem?

Where Moses and the Hebrew prophets

Are still alive and teach Torah?

Through Israel we perceive the infinite: the God of Israel.

The land and its people are indispensable:

God’s witness in a world where the ordinary

Has become the standard.

And where Jerusalem is a wake up call.

Partially Inspired by Abraham Joshua Heschel and Mark Twain