For thousands of years, Jerusalem has been tugging at the heart and soul of the Jewish people. Once a year, on the 9th day of Av, we Jews imagine what it means to have lost Jerusalem. Indeed, the Book of Lamentations captures the pain and the poignancy of that loss — Alas, Lonely sits the City, Once great with people! She that was great among the nations is like a widow; the princess among states has become a thrall.” (Lamentations 1:1).
And yet, ironically, that sense of pain actually reminds us that no one can ever take away the meaning and power of Jerusalem from the soul and kishkes of the Jewish people.
I, for one, am proud to be a Jew at this moment in Jewish history when the city of Jerusalem has been rebuilt, when its streets are filled, when shouts and dance are heard and seen, and the vitality and vibrancy of the city pulsates with a renewed Jewish presence. Indeed, Jerusalem is the home of my 96-year old mother and the burial site of my father. I love the fact that the Knesset, the many governmental offices, the Supreme Court and the Hebrew University are all in Jerusalem.
I love the fact that since 1967, Jews have been able to freely assemble in any place in Jerusalem — including sacred sites denied us for the first 19 years of statehood by the Jordanian government’s control of the Old City. Jerusalem is central to who we are as a people and central to the narrative of the modern state of Israel.
And yet, for all of that, it remains a place of dispute.
Declarations alone cannot resolve this dispute. I long for the day when the city of Jerusalem is the place where the U.S. Embassy is located. And I long for the day when the Jewish state lives in peace side by side with a vital and vibrant Palestinian State.
I long for the day when indeed not only the lion and the lamb lie down next to one another in peace, but when two peoples with two conflicting narratives can find it possible to lie down in peace. But we are not there yet.
And what will get us there are not declarations — as powerful as they may seem — but rather the serious and necessary hard work of ending hatred and hubris, pain and persecution. Jews have every right to long for a universally recognized presence in Jerusalem — without apology. And Palestinians have every right to expect that their lives will be taken seriously, that their longings will be addressed correctly and that their national capital will be in a place that represents the homeland they seek.
All of this will require serious negotiations and potential compromises. But until we see a parallel commitment to a peace process undertaken by the president, there can be no full joy with the announcement of the embassy move. It should happen one day in the context of an agreement that does not add fuel to a simmering fire — but rather provides a healing balm to a conflict resolved.
Morris J. Allen is rabbi at the Beth Jacob Congregation in Mendota Heights.