By Rabbi Rick Sherwin
In Wednesday’s speech, President Donald Trump publicly acknowledged that accepting Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is no more or less than a recognition of reality. Israelis understand the challenge that comes with this recognition, to fulfill the biblical injunction to pursue peace. Israel’s hope is for the Arab world to reach back not with riots and violence, but with moral commitment to coexist with the Jewish State in peace.
Jerusalem has always been at the center of the Jewish heart. As a young child – only a few years after the re-establishment of the Jewish State – I learned Israel’s national anthem, with its affirmation: “We have not lost our 2,000-year-old hope, to be a free people in our land, in Jerusalem.”
When Rome destroyed Jerusalem in the first century, 2,000 years ago, it changed the name of the Jewish Homeland from Judea to Palestine, a name reflecting the biblical Philistines. Palestine became the name of the JEWISH State until 1948 when Palestine was renamed “Israel,” and the biblical capital was confirmed as the modern capital: Jerusalem, a city that has always been a Jewish city.
How ironic that Arabs (there were no Palestinians) rejected the national boundaries for the Jewish State (which favored the Arabs), and rejected the United Nations proposal to make Jerusalem an International City. Following the War of Independence in 1948, Jordan conquered and occupied the eastern sector of Jerusalem, expelled all Jews and destroyed Jewish sacred sites. In 1967, Israel liberated East Jerusalem and helped Arabs restore and maintain their sacred sites while rebuilding Jerusalem.
The Arab Palestinian demand is that Israel “give back” the part of the city that was occupied by Arabs for a mere 19 years, confiscated in a war meant to wipe the new State of Israel off the map.
In 1980 – acknowledging the sovereign right of any nation to name its own capital – the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) confirmed a “complete and united” Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Just as Congress convenes in Washington, D.C., Israel’s Knesset has always been in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is the only world capital whose status is denied by the international community. To change that, Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, mandating the U.S. Embassy to move from Tel Aviv to “unified” Jerusalem. The law has been held in abeyance due to semiannual presidential waivers for “national security” reasons.
On December 6, 2017, President Donald Trump affirmed the decision made by Congress in 1995. We may debate the timing and the manner of the decision, but it is a decision that was made over 20 years ago!
To those worried about Arab backlash, we acknowledge that any support given to Israel by the United States is cause for backlash, our country should – even in the face of countless U.N. condemnations reflecting the world’s categorical anti-Israel bias – do what is right. To those who rejoice that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, we caution that there is still a long road ahead in negotiating peace, which may or may not include placing certain neighborhoods and sectors under the Arab banner.
Israeli environmental visionary Yonatan Elazar, with his gift of insight and depth of love for Israel, believes that President Donald Trump’s words should strengthen the moral fiber of the Jewish People to guide Israel to find an equitable, ethical, and sustainable solution. He writes, “I would hope as a People with one of the most recognizable ethical and humanistic codes, we would not rest until we had implemented a peaceful, equitable, and working solution [for all who must live side-by-side].”
Jerusalem is a city built with ancient stone, white in color that turns gold as the sun sets. Following the Six Day War in 1967, Naomi Shemer reflected Israel’s 2,000-year-old dream:
Jerusalem, all of gold
Jerusalem, bronze and light
Within my heart I shall treasure
Your song and sight.
The word “shalom” means more than peace: it denotes “wholeness” and “completeness.” In Hebrew, Jerusalem – Yerushalayim – is Eer Shalem, the City of Wholeness. Jerusalem was never meant to be a city of fracture and fragmentation, but rather a city of pulling together with dignity and destiny.
Rabbi Rick Sherwin, a graduate of UCLA, was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Rabbi Rick’s passion is filling spiritual services and interfaith educational programs with creativity, relevance, dialogue, and humor.