This Sunday, Jerusalem will turn blue and white once again as we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day. It’s one of the festivals in the Omer, the newest holiday on the Jewish calendar, and a very special day – especially for Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist Jewish communities. It celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem, which happened 51 years ago.
Jerusalem is at the centre of Jewish prayer and philosophy. It’s the country’s proud capital, and has a unique history that has seen it switch hands through different empires since the Romans exiled the natives two thousand years ago. Lying at the heart of the Israel-Arab conflict, it’s also one of the most hotly contested pieces of land in the world.
The real question here isn’t what: we know what Jerusalem is. It’s why. Why is Jerusalem so important to us?
Jerusalem pops up at unexpected places throughout the Bible, and is referenced anonymously in even more places. It starts in the Book of Genesis: the sages teach that the rocks upon which Jacob rested when fleeing his angry brother later became the cornerstone for the Temple on Temple Mount. Entire biblical books like Jeremiah and Isaiah are dedicated to telling the city’s story, and predicting the fate of its residents.
Once the Israelites entered the Land of Israel, Jerusalem was selected as the site of the Temple and became the focal point of the new Jewish nation’s religion. The city was besieged, torn apart, renamed, defiled, and destroyed in the name of God, war, and power. Its residents were evicted from their beloved home time and again as newer, stronger armies arrived on the scene.
Throughout history, Jerusalem rose to take pride of place in the philosophy of three major religions and became the focus of religious wars and tensions – some of which are still unfolding today. Crusades were launched and bombs exploded in bids to claim ownership of the Holy City.
Over time, the broken ruins have been reconstructed, and the decimated city has become a thriving metropolis that stands as the capital of Israel’s flourishing democracy. Like the proverbial phoenix, it has risen through the literal ash to become a dazzling city high above the kingdom it leads.
To quote Mike Pence, every nation has the right to choose its own capital, and Jerusalem is Israel’s. The City of Gold is of immense global importance, and the glowing capital of our beautiful blue and white state.
Why Jerusalem? Where else?