…in our hands

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29 May 2008

Every year I hold a private celebration of the reunification of Jerusalem. It is a treasured ritual whereby I lock the door to my office, turn off the lights, place a box of tissues within easy reach and listen to the entire crackly radio broadcast of journalist Yossi Ronen accompanying the IDF paratroops as they entered the old city of Jerusalem during the Six Day War.

This is the historic recording of the broadcast that millions of Israelis listened to in their homes… in their cars … in their bomb shelters. It was a miracle of technology at the time that serendipitously allowed a generation to listen in on a genuine miracle in the making.

At the beginning of the broadcast one can hear the anticipation as Colonel Motta Gur, the Paratroop Commander, addressed his troops first as fellow Jews and then as soldiers:

“Shortly we’re going to go into the Old City of Jerusalem, that all generations have dreamed about. We will be the first to enter the Old City. Eitan’s tanks will advance on the left and will enter the Lion’s Gate. The final rendezvous will be on the open square above [on the Temple mount]”.

Listening to the broadcast you can hear frequent gunfire and the sound of the soldier’s boots as they run.

Then comes one of the most electrifying moments of the recording as Motta Gur shouts over the army wireless: “The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!” followed by a ceasefire order from the David Operations room over the radio.

It was the incredible gift we had been praying for since our exile began… and suddenly it was ours!

The problem with gifts is that once received, they are rarely appreciated for long.

Despite the emotional moments later in the broadcast as the soldiers stood before the western wall listening to the shofar being blown and the ‘shehechiyanu’ prayer (… for allowing us to arrive at this day) being tearfully recited… from the moment Jerusalem was reunified and truly ‘in our hands’, something strange and unexpected started to happen. We began trying to hand it back.

I sit in my darkened office each year on Yom Yerushalayim and marvel at the recorded sounds of exhausted Israeli soldiers – secular and religious – from all over the country, openly weeping as the enormity and significance of their accomplishment occurred to them.

Yet after almost two thousand years of dreaming of a united Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty, and before the echoes of gunfire had even died away, we had handed back control of Judaism’s holiest site; The Temple mount.

The decision to allow the Muslim Waqf – a sort of Muslim perpetual trust that had been set up to manage the site since their conquest in the late 13th century) – to remain in control may seem an enlightened and magnanimous gesture. But what of our perpetual trust. What of our collective responsibility to safeguard and protect our conquests, inheritance and gifts for future generations?

It should be kept in mind that the generous gesture we extended to the Muslims has not been extended to Jews, Christians, Hindus or Bhuddists during any of their modern Muslim wars, insurgencies and conquests.

And for all our generosity, the spot towards which Jews have always prayed remains essentially out of reach… reduced to a tourist stop where escorts watch closely to ensure that visitor’s lips don’t move lest the Muslim holy place be defiled by Jewish prayer.

I’ve talked many times with my older Israeli friends about what it was like living here after the war. The responses I get nearly always include a sense of limitless optimism… as if anything was possible; especially the idea that Israel might finally be allowed to fully create itself instead of simply getting by.

Yet many of these same people have become ‘pragmatic’ in recent years about the value of the gift we received. “After all”, they say, “didn’t our problems begin after that war? Aren’t we only being asked to turn back the clock to before the war in return for peace?

These are sensible people with responsible jobs… families… mortgages. They’ve spent their lives fighting in Israel’s wars and sending their children to fight when they became too old. Certainly they’ve earned the right to re-examine their gift and decide if it’s still worth all the trouble.

As a newcomer, do I have the right to point out to them that our ‘problems’ have been ongoing and predate even the war of independence? So far I’ve mostly kept my counsel to myself. But as the historic recording comes to an end and I dab the inevitable tears from my cheeks, I silently wonder if this gift is even ours to return.

Certainly matters of politics, personal observance or even whether to remain in Israel are decisions that every Israeli has earned the right to make. But can a gift that was given to the entire Jewish people be simply handed back by its current caretakers because it’s become too much trouble. Does any amount of sacrifice, suffering or paying of dues give an Israeli the right to return such a gift?

Whether recalling the heady euphoria of the Six Day War when the gift was bestowed, or personally enduring the difficulties of maintaining this trust for future generations, I can’t help but feel that we have been given a trust and do not have the right to forsake such a gift that has been placed – by chance or by providence – in our hands.

David Bogner, formerly of Fairfield, CT, lives in Efrat with his wife Zahava (nee Cheryl Pomeranz), and their children Ariella, Gilad and Yonah. Since moving to Israel in 2003 David has been working in Israel’s defense industry on International Marketing and Business Development. In his free time David keeps a blog (www.treppenwitz.com) and is an amateur beekeeper.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.