In his review of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s book Jerusalem: A Biography, Alex Joffe noted that “if [cities] have a consciousness, it is that encoded in literature by their lovers and haters. In this respect, no other city has a consciousness like Jerusalem’s. No other city has had the level of literary attention lavished on Jerusalem. Athens, Rome, Paris, London, New York – none of them comes close.”
And if it is true as Joffe writes – and we agree with him it is – that no city has been more the subject of literary attention than Jerusalem, it is equally true that no people has lavished more literary or other attention on Jerusalem than the Jewish People.
No people utters the name of Jerusalem in its daily prayers more than the Jewish People. No people turns its face in prayer each day three times a day toward Jerusalem other than the Jewish People. No people has ever been obliged to make its holiday pilgrimages to Jerusalem other than the Jewish People. No people has ever had Jerusalem as its political and legislative capital other than the Jewish People. No people has ever been more affected by expulsion from a city than the Jewish People has been by its several expulsions from Jerusalem. No people holds the city of Jerusalem and its ongoing restoration at the heart of its collective memory more than the Jewish People. No people yearns for a Jerusalem at peace more than the Jewish People.
Ever since the ancient Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in the 586 BCE and Ezra and Nechemiah brought their people back from their exile less than 100 years later, it has always been thus. Indeed, it will always be thus.
It is no exaggeration to say that in large part, the deep, historical consciousness of the Jewish People has been formed out of the dust and trampled stones of the city from which it was violently exiled, torn away and torn away again.
But even through the long, hope-laden millennia of yearning to return to Zion, Jews had always lived in Jerusalem. Even in Silwan – the Arab community on the southern slopes outside the Old City of Jerusalem, which is frequently in the news due to ongoing tensions between its Arab residents and Jews who wish to move there – Jews lived in large numbers between the 1880s until the 1920s, when riots forced them out.
The point must be emphasized: Jews have always lived in Jerusalem. They were expelled from the Old City by the Jordanian army in 1948. And there are individuals and governments still today who would see that expulsion enshrined as the legal status quo. But that exile of the Jews from Jerusalem will be the last one.
On the 28th day of Iyar, 45 years ago this week, Jews returned to the Old City. And with the return of the Jews to all of Jerusalem, all worshippers of the three monotheistic faiths were also able to “return” to worship freely, without fear of expulsion, at their respective holy places, too.
That day in modern history was a very great day.