I’ve had a crush on you for many, many years. We first became acquainted in the early 1970s when I was a Bar Mitzvah boy, and I felt blessed to chant blessings and read Torah in the shadow of the Western Wall. We sort of lost touch, and then when I was a cantorial student at Hebrew Union College, I felt blessed and fortunate to not only sing about you, but for you and with you by my side. The words of the psalms and the siddur mentioning you came alive and real. I truly rejoiced when I sang, “We are going to the house of Adonai and our feet are within your gates…” (Psalm 122). And when I jubilantly sang, “Lach Yerushalayim…” I sang with a sense of hope that a new light will shine in your honor.
We grew closer and closer, and what was initially a summer romance got a little more serious. And in 2013 I decided to propose: I made Aliyah. Not just to Israel, but to you, Jerusalem. You, my dear Jerusalem, the City of Peace, City of Righteousness, the City of Doves, the Faithful City, was the place in which I hoped to live, work, and fulfill my dream of living in Israel.
But then something happened, and I noticed how things had changed, especially as we get closer and closer to Yom Yerushalayim. On the day when we’re supposed to be celebrating the reunification of Jerusalem, I feel especially alienated from the city in which I live and work. On this holiday, the streets of Jerusalem are filled with mostly orthodox, flag waving youth (segregated by gender) wearing white and shouting slogans and epithets designed to instill fear and feelings of religious and racial superiority. On the morning of Yom Yerushalayim (this year May 28), buses and vans will park on my street in central Jerusalem, and the marchers with their strident chants will make their way toward the Old City.
They’ll sing: “He who believes is never afraid. We’re the ones with the King of the Universe, and He keeps us safe.” Choruses of “Am Yisrael Chai — the people of Israel lives, will never give up, and will never compromise” will add to the cacophony of other jingoistic cheering. These parades into the Muslim Quarter are led by the most religious-fascist elements of our government, who deify the likes of Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldstein.
In truth, my dear Jerusalem, you have never been truly unified. The residents of East Jerusalem live under conditions of occupation, humiliation, and exclusion. The marchers will sing and dance in front of the Western Wall, your wall, dear Jerusalem, that stands as a symbol not of liberation, but of demonization of any stream of Judaism that is not orthodox.
So, my dear Jerusalem, this year I will spend Yom Yerushalayim in Tel Aviv. I’ll be teaching in the morning, and in the afternoon, I’ll be meeting real estate agents and looking at apartments. You see, I think it’s time we broke up. Or at least took a “time out.” Our dear friend Yehudah Amichai said that the air over Jerusalem is “hard to breathe,” and I must admit, for all your professed Talmudic measures of beauty, the air over Jerusalem is suffocating me. I will always care for you, and I’ll continually advocate for a more pluralistic, kinder, more sensible Jerusalem, but I have to say ‘goodbye’ for now.
It’s a cliché in a breakup for the one leaving to say, “It’s not you; it’s me.” But, my love, my dear, it’s really both of us. We’ve both changed, and we’ve grown apart. In the meantime, I’ll be standing on the beach in Tel Aviv, praying that someday I will feel welcome in your midst.