How big and beautiful is my city Jerusalem. It was always beautiful, at least in the eye of its children. But in the past forty-nine years it has grown and blossomed beyond all belief, becoming a beacon of light in a darkened world.
From 1948 to 1967, Jerusalem was small, quiet and off-the-beaten track – a bruised, divided city bereft of its heart. More of a symbol than a real city. One narrow, winding road led up the hills into the city. Her light was a glimmer, a tiny lonely star atop the mountains. The city itself was hemmed in and confined by borders and barbed wire. Every corner cradled history, told a story, touched the soul. Jerusalem was a symbol, but the real action took place elsewhere, on the shores of Tel Aviv. Jerusalem was small, sleepy and elderly. You could walk the length and breadth of the entire city in less than an afternoon anda by the time the sun went down and the last Maariv service ended, her day was over.
Today, Jerusalem is a metropolis. Alive, thriving, vibrating and vivacious. The Old City walls have been cleaned and renewed with broad promenades and parks surrounding them. The Rova – the Jewish Quarter – sprung up from the ground. Its scores and scores of buildings, built with Jerusalem stone, house hundreds of families. Synagogues have been rebuilt. The legendary Churva Shul stands again in all its glory. The sounds of Torah waft out of dozens of schools and yeshivot. And the Kotel HaMaaravi – the Western Wall of the Temple – opens its arms across a large plaza to embrace the hundreds of thousands of its sons and daughters who come to pray. Above it all, the Temple Mount stands waiting.
Next to the Old City walls, a bridge arches across the streets and reaches the magnificent Mamilla Mall. For nineteen years, Mamilla Street was a border between Old and New Jerusalem, an abandoned slum since the War for Independence in 1948. Today, its elegant stores and streets and restaurants never fail to amaze me. Where is the destroyed city Yirmiyahu HaNavi described?
To the south, “destruction” can still be viewed, but in a new, rebuilt form. Ir David, the biblical City of David, is being unearthed and restored. Like the tunnels and streets under the Kotel and the Old City, the excavations invite us to revisit our past. With our feet, as well as with our souls.
The Machon HaMikdash, Yeshivat Aish HaTorah, the newly rebuilt Waldorf Astoria hotel, the Rakevet Kalah (the light rail train which crosses the city), newly paved Jaffa and King George streets, the enlarged and renovated Shuk Machaneh Yehuda market, the huge campus of the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital on Har HaTzofim, the Bridge of Strings (an allusion to King David’s harp) at the entrance to city, dozens of new yeshivot and scores of other buildings, institutions, parks and places… the list is too long to enumerate… none of these existed before the 28th of Iyar, 1967.
Nor does Jerusalem stand alone atop the mountains today. She has spread her wings. Like a radiant bride waiting for the arrival of her groom, she is surrounded by shusvinim in the form of vibrant new neighborhoods. Har Nof, Ramat Eshkol, Ramot, Gilo, Neveh Yakov, Pisgat Zev – all stand proud and joyous around her, turning metropolitan Jerusalem into an area which now boasts over one million inhabitants. Settlements and smaller cities like Maaleh Adumim, Beitar, Efrat and the settlements in Gush Etzion stand further out. When you ascend the road to Jerusalem at night, you are no longer guided by a lonely star atop the mountain, but by a glowing City of Light shining out into the world.
When I take my grandchildren to all the places we couldn’t access before 1967, when I show them all the streets we couldn’t pass, all the things that are now but weren’t then, they look at me as though I’m Alice, straight out of Wonderland, talking about a different time and place. They’re right.
Chazal said that the recipient of a miracle does not always recognize his miracle. On the 28th of Iyar, 1967, when we heard the famous announcement on the radio, “Har Habayit b’yadeinu… The Temple Mount is in our hands!” we stayed tuned, expecting to hear next that Mashiach was here, waiting for us on Har HaZeitim. At that electric moment, we would have believed our ears. The following day, we dressed our kids in Shabbos clothes and drove up from our yishuv in the south to see for ourselves. We couldn’t yet enter the Old City or approach the Kotel (the war had not officially ended), but together with thousands of Jerusalemites who had finally left their shelters, we walked along King David Street, facing the walls, looking at and savoring our miracle.
A few days later, we returned to Jerusalem, this time to join the hundreds of thousands who were making their first pilgrimage to the Kotel. People in wheelchairs, children with flags, babies in buggies, old and young marched reverently together, crying and unbelieving, up the steep winding road to Shaar Tzion, the one gate Tzahal had cleared and opened to the crowds. We went up singing David’s songs of praise for Yerushalayim, accompanied by the unending blasts of shofarot. It was our very own “Aliyah la’Regel.” There was no spacious “plaza” yet, but Tzahal had cleared away the houses which had been built up against the wall. The available space was much too small to hold all the masses of people, but like the Beit HaMikdash itself which miraculously had room to hold however many Jews came, the Kotel, too, opened her arms and, amidst all the rubble, embraced God’s children.
Many things have happened since that earth-shaking war, year, date, hour. Some were terrible mistakes; some were failures; some were manifestations of great faith and sacrifice by Am Yisrael. We are still on our “Aliyah la’Regel” – on the ascension to the Holy Temple. Walking up the mountains and into the arms of God is a challenging, often difficult, journey. Success and failure accompany us along the way.
But the mountain is there, the torch is burning, the light shining. Our Father is waiting. It may take us a while longer to reach and rebuild His Bayit, but we will get there. Meanwhile, let us feel humbled and give thanks. We have merited our own contemporary, biblical miracle.
L’shana haba’ah bi’Yerushalayim Habinuya!
Arise, Awake, Daughter of Zion!
Too long have you dwelled in the Valley of Tears.
Don your splendor for the Glory of G-d is upon you.
No longer the tired, battered, empty city of Yesteryear.
Not yet the bright, Holy, Divine City of Tomorrow.
Jerusalem is still the city of Today.
Vibrant, noisy, pulsating with life.
Young, searching, emerging.
Dissenting, rebellious, defying.
Sparks of light shining through dark places,
bursting with energy and promise,
waiting to fully emerge,
waiting to be redeemed.
Waiting to light the way for the Redeemer.
From “Wheat, Wine & Honey…” a book of poems by Yaffa Ganz (2015), available at amazon.com or by contacting Yaffa directly.