The Jewish Connection to Jerusalem
Remembering Jerusalem permeates Jewish belief, thought, and practice in profound and powerful ways.
Remembering Leads to Action
During the centuries following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., the Jewish connection to Jerusalem was mostly one of distant hope, but there was always a core of people waiting to visit and live in the city whenever the opportunity presented itself. According to the Church Father Jerome, the Jews of the fourth century would pay for the special privilege of entering Jerusalem on the Ninth of Av in order to mourn. The desire to stand as close to the area on which the Temple stood established the Western Wall area as a focus of pilgrimage and worship from as early as the seventh century.
In 1099, Jews and Muslims fought the Crusader invasion together, standing side by side on the walls of Jerusalem. The great rabbi Nachmanides arrived in the city from Spain between 1265-67, establishing a synagogue that still exists, the kernel around which the present Jewish Quarter grew. By 1844, the Jewish community was the largest single community in Jerusalem, numbering 7,120 people (almost one half of all inhabitants).
In modernity, the powerful pull of Jerusalem is expressed in the memoirs of Natan Chofshi, one of the early Zionist pioneers who arrived in the Land of Israel 100 years ago from Russia:
"I used to pray…for the return to Zion…I particularly recall the prayers during Rosh Hashanah… 'And on that day the horn will blow proclaiming the return of the lost in Assyria and Egypt and their return to the holy mountain of Jerusalem.' These were sentences my father repeated at the holiday table. I was deeply affected by both the content and the tune of these words, and the tune resounds within me to this day. Thus I undertook the task of combining my own modest abilities and my best efforts…to hasten salvation."
And now, in our lifetime, we live with the reality of Jerusalem as the capital city of the Jewish State of Israel. This did not just come about on its own, but is the result of the Jewish people's active remembering of Jerusalem throughout the generations, leading to the deeds of pioneers such as Nachmanides and Natan Chofshi. In this way, the prophet Zechariah's words have been fulfilled: "Thus says the Lord of Hosts: The day will come when old men and old women will populate the streets of Jerusalem…And the streets of the city will fill with boys and girls at play" (Zechariah 8:4).
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