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Divide Jerusalem to Unite it

Jerusalem must be a divided city - divided among all aspects and ideologies of Israeli society, for only as a divided city can it be united as the capital of all Israelis
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and holds the Kaufman Family Chair in Jewish Philosophy. He is author of the highly regarded 2016 book, Putting God Second: How to Save Religion from Itself, and is the host of the award-winning For Heaven’s Sake, one of the most popular Jewish podcasts in North America. Donniel is the founder of some of the most extensive education, training and enrichment programs for scholars,

Originally published on News 1 (in Hebrew)

We Jews have been saying, “Next year in Jerusalem,” for 2,000 years. We have continued to recite it even since the rebirth of Israel and the reunification of Jerusalem. As such, this statement has become a vehicle for exp ressing the central place that Jerusalem plays in our collective national and religious consciousness. Jerusalem is a carrier of our dreams and our aspirations to live as a free and independent Jewish people, together in our own country.

Our tradition, however, speaks of two Jerusalems – an earthly Jerusalem and a heavenly one. For many years, we have seen the earthly Jerusalem deteriorate. Dirty streets, insufficient infrastructure, insufficient investment in industry and in jobs, and the perception that in the earthly Jerusalem there is no place for liberal and non-Orthodox Jews, have all led to a diminishing of Jerusalem in the eyes of its citizens and the citizens of the state of Israel.

One of the main reasons for high-tech entrepreneur Nir Barkat’s victory in the recent mayoral elections was our broad desire to see the earthly Jerusalem reshaped and redefined, and our belief that Barkat was the best candidate to bring about that change.

Like other Jerusalem residents, I too want a new earthly Jerusalem. However, one of the major challenges facing our new mayor is to reshape and to redefine the heavenly Jerusalem, for it is only a new vision of the heavenly Jerusalem that can give back prominence and significance to the earthly one.

While Israelis proclaim great love and loyalty for Jerusalem, and any politician who admits to a willingness to divide it becomes fundamentally unelectable, the reality is that most Israelis – besides giving the city lip service – have in reality disengaged from Jerusalem. While no one can talk about giving part of Jerusalem over to the Palestinians, Israelis have already practically given it over to “them” – “them” being individuals who live and abide by Jewish principles from which many Israelis feel deeply alienated.

But Jerusalem cannot be the capital of all of Israel while being conceptualized as the inheritance of a small percentage of Israeli society.

Along with a new culture of municipal government and activism, Nir Barkat must bring new hope and a willingness to reinvest not merely in infrastructure, but also our dreams. Together with cleaning up the garbage, he must clean up and wipe away the notion that exists in the hearts of many Israelis that Jerusalem is a Jewishly foreign city.

This process cannot be achieved through attacking, alienating or vilifying any part of the city’s residents. The ultra-Orthodox are no one’s enemy. They are a part of our people, and Jerusalem belongs to them just as it belongs to the rest of us. At the same time, however, they can no longer be allowed to be the sole carriers of Jerusalem’s soul, culture, and aspirations.

Jerusalem must be a divided city – divided among all aspects and ideologies of Israeli society, for only as a divided city can it be united as the capital of all Israelis. Jerusalem must be a safe city – safe for all expressions of Jewishness.

Jerusalem will achieve this only when we recognize that the city is no one’s unless it is all of ours, and when there is a new spirit in which we all actively pursue public policies that give room and respect for us all, not only our personal agendas.

Jerusalem must become a paradigm of healing, an opportunity to give expression to the deepest dreams of the Jewish people. One will not repair the heavenly Jerusalem through acts of hatred, but only tear it further asunder. Instead of attacking, we need a new spirit of embracing.

Jerusalem must become a city where all Jewish ideologies – Orthodox, liberal, traditional and secular – thrive, where we go beyond the simple dichotomies of schools for the ultra-Orthodox and cafes and pubs for the secular. Ultra-Orthodox need, as well, clean streets and parks and places in which their families’ lives can flourish, and secular Israelis need education and opportunities to give Jewish expression to the meaning of Jerusalem in their lives.

In our tradition, one of the unique miracles of Jerusalem at the time of the temple was that regardless of how many people came there, the pilgrims never said, tzar li hamakom – the place is too crowded for me. When we accept the other and don’t seek to disenfranchise him or her, then no one will feel crowded in, or crowded out of Jerusalem.

This is the spirit that is needed here, and this is the message that our mayor must communicate. He must be a figure who also knows how to stand above the details and the demands of the various coalition partners. The fundamental task of the new mayor is not only to represent all factions, but to stimulate them to engage each other. He must be a man who offers a larger vision of what Jerusalem means and stands for in Jewish history.

If he is able to communicate such a vision, then Jerusalem will again be the capital of Israel. It will become a city that personifies the essence of the Israeli aspiration, and then the heavenly Jerusalem will descend to earth and transform itself. Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel when all Israelis say and mean, “Next year in Jerusalem.” It is the job of all lovers of Jerusalem to unite and to help our new mayor lead us in this direction.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

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