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12.13.13 Issue

by Eliad Eliyahu Ben-Shushan, Community Shaliach

It is easy not to forget Jerusalem – not only because of the rich history, but also because of the everyday current events in the most famous city in the world.

Last July, three weeks before I moved to Omaha, I was privileged to visit the Kotel — the Western Wall in Jerusalem — with many other “future shlichim” of the Jewish Agency for Israel.  The group represented varied sectors of Israeli society who are now “bringing Israel” to hundreds of Jewish communities in the world.

We arrived at the Kotel on a very special evening of Tisha B’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Everyone who came admitted it was a meaningful experience to see so many people sitting on the ground, singing with tearful voices, holding candles and mourning something that happened 1,946 years ago. I am sure that these people we saw cannot forget Jerusalem. Questions were raised into the air that night by several friends… Why? Why do people still cry in the year of 2013? Why was Jerusalem so important in the past and still in the present? How many years need to pass before people stop mourning this historic event?

During all Jewish history, Jerusalem was always in the center of the Jewish life. People from all sides of the world pray every day facing in the direction of Jerusalem. Three times a day the observant Jew prays about Jerusalem. At the end of the Passover Seder everyone sings Leshana Haba Ba’ Yerushalaim which means Next year in Jerusalem! And even Matisyahu, the famous reggae, rock and hip hop super star, keeps singing about Jerusalem with millions of viewers on YouTube. People don’t forget Jerusalem and each one of them for his or her own reasons.

Nowadays, for everyone who lives in Israel or cares about the life in Israel, it is also impossible to forget Jerusalem, since it is in the headlines most of the time.

Even as I began writing this article, two events happened at the same time. At the Temple Mount (Har HaBayt), Arab Muslims shot fireworks on Israeli policemen who tried to protect Jewish visitors. After that incident, the Temple Mount was closed to everyone who is not Muslim for one day in order to avoid potential problems. A week before that, at the first candle of Hanukkah, a few Jews wanted to enter into the Temple Mount. As they sang Hanukkah songs, a few Arabs started to fight with them telling them to get out. The event ended with police interference and once again the closing of the entrance to non-Muslim visitors.

Since 1967 both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have claimed sovereignty over the site which remains a major focal point of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In an attempt to keep the status quo, the Israeli government enforces a controversial ban on prayer by non-Muslim visitors.

The second event which happened was with the Women of The Wall on Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the first day of the Hebrew month Tevet. This group of Reform women gathered at the Western Wall to pray in the women’s section with talit and tefillin as they do every Rosh Chodesh. A group of Ultra-Orthodox came to demonstrate against them. Then, surprisingly, this month the rabbi of the Kotel, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, asked the ultra-Orthodox not to demonstrate against the women. Not surprisingly, two different newspapers gave different reasons for doing this.

These two different events in one important place symbolizes the importance of the place for many people in the land of Israel. Is there any connection between these two events except for the fact they happened at the same time? Why is Jerusalem in the center and why do people decide to express their religious opinions and traditional customs in this holy place? Do you have a firm opinion or do you think you need to have more details and information on this topic in order to have a better “Eye on Israel?”

Please come on this upcoming Tuesday, Dec. 17, at noon in the Kripke Jewish Federation Library for the next session of “Eye on Israel.” We will discuss the complexity of Jerusalem, the “Women of the Wall” and the “Temple Mount.” will be the platform from which we may begin to understand again how varied sectors in one land face the challenging reality that is Israel.

There is no charge to attend “Eye on Israel” and it is open to the public. It is presented through the Center for Jewish Life, whose mission it is to maximize involvement of Omaha’s Jewish community in imaginative, compelling and meaningful Jewish experiences. For additional information, please call 402.334.6463.