Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem Parash Kedoshim 5783


As many of you know last Wednesday was Yom Ha-Atzmaut,
Israel Independence Day, the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel’s birth as
a nation.  On that day, my class from the One Year Program from Hebrew
University in Jerusalem had a reunion online. In 1972 we were  mostly
nineteen, twenty years old, college Juniors, studying a year abroad in
Jerusalem. We were six hundred strong, from all over the United States and
Canada. This was our first class reunion, ever. Most of us had not seen, or
heard, from one another in 50 years. The One Year Program never tried to stay
in touch with the members of our class, so it was hit or miss on who we could
find. Of the 60 people online, I could remember only a handful. Yet, for all of
us, I believe, the reunion brought back powerful memories of one of the most
significant years in our lives. 


Fifty years ago, at Israel’s 25th birthday, her population
was 3 million. Today, it is 10 million. Fifty years ago, it cost $30 a minute
to make a phone call home. That would be $215 a minute in today’s economy. No
wonder nobody ever called home! What I do have are over a hundred letters home
from that year that my mother kept. On May 9, 1972, Palestinian-inspired
Japanese terrorists murder 27 people at Lod Airport, now Ben-Gurion airport. I
recall being hyper-vigilant when I arrived at Lod airport 2 months later to
begin my year in Israel. In August of 1972 Bobby Fischer won the World Chess
Championship. On September 5 eleven Israeli athletes were murdered by a
Palestinian Terrorist group called Black September at the Munich Summer
Olympics. In November, Richard Nixon was re-elected President of the United
States in a landslide over George McGovern. On Israel Independence Day, 1973 my
friends and I attended the Independence Day parade in Jerusalem. Thousands of
soldiers marched by, from every branch of the military. Tanks rumbled down the streets,
belching smoke and chewing up the asphalt as they passed. Fighter jets deafened
us as they soared wing to wing overhead. This represented the height of
Israel’s confidence, pride, and power. The Six Day War five years earlier had
left Israel with an expanded territory and as the supreme military power in the
Middle East. It was a time of unsurpassed optimism about the future in


A few months later, in October 1973, when we were back in
the United States, Egypt launched a surprise attack against Israel that
shattered that confidence and severely challenged the idea, held in the
previous five years, that Israel was invincible. Israelis paid a terrible price
in that war – 2,700 dead, more than 7000 wounded, thousands of them permanently
maimed. The war brought down the leadership of the country. And never again
would Israel celebrate its independence with a military parade.  


A great deal has changed since those heady years of the
early 1970s. At the time, Israel was admired by much of the world as a David
slaying Goliath. Israelis were respected for their pluck and their courage, as
they prevailed over and over against more powerful forces who sought to destroy
them. The terrorism directed against Israeli civilians, adults and children alike,
evoked sympathy from most of the world. Today, Israel is seen by much of the
world as an oppressor of the Palestinian people, a Goliath subjugating the
national aspirations of the weaker party. Terrorists have become “freedom fighters”
or “guerillas”. Headlines proclaim that Israel is on the verge of becoming an
autocracy, that its judiciary will be so weakened by recent reforms proposed in
the Knesset that minority rights will not be protected.


I know that many of us feel disillusioned, bewildered, and confused
by Israel. Israel has not fulfilled the prophetic dream of being “a light unto
the nations” – at least not yet.  Indeed, these are challenging times,
worrisome times. But we must not lose our perspective and give up on Israel. We
cannot abandon Israel, just because we disagree with the policies of the
Israeli government. Our connection to the Land of Israel, our reborn
sovereignty on this land promised to us by God, is an essential part of the
Jewish story. Our bond to the Land of Israel is integral to our Jewish identity,
whether we identify as “religious” or “secular” Jews. From the time of
Abraham, the Jewish narrative has been linked to the Land of Israel. When God
takes us out of Egypt, now no longer a family, but a people, God leads us to
the land of Israel, the Land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Our fate is
inseparable from the Land. Indeed, in the Haftorah that Katie will chant
tomorrow morning, the Prophet Amos reaffirms the unique relationship between
the Jewish people and the land. God, speaking through Amos, says:


I will restore my people Israel,

They shall rebuild ruined cities and inhabit them.

They shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,

They shall till gardens and eat their fruits.

And I will plant them upon their soil,

Nevermore to be uprooted

From the soil I have given them. 

In 1991, Avrum Harman, former Israeli ambassador to the
United Nations and President of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, delivered a
speech. He said, “If I have one regret in all that I have done for this
country, it is the many times over the years that I addressed Jews and said to
them: this is the most challenging time in Israel’s history.  This is the
most dangerous time in Israel’s history.  This is the most exciting time
in Israel’s history.  I’ve said that so many times over the years, in ’48
and in ’67, with the PLO and Lebanon and the Intifada, I regret having ever
said it.  Because the truth is, right now is the most difficult, exciting
and challenging time in the history of the State of Israel.”


So much has happened in Israel since I was first there in
1972. Still more since Avrum Harman penned those words in 1991. God willing,
much more is yet to happen, until the end of time. But when we despair over the
difficulties and challenges that confront the Jewish state in our own time, let
us keep in mind the words of Psalm 122:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem/May those who love you

May there be peace within your walls/serenity within your

For the sake of my friends and companions/ I pray that
peace be yours.

For the sake of the House of Adonai our G-d/ I seek your

Shabbat Shalom