Newsletter 226: If I forget thee O Jerusalem
If I forget thee O Jerusalem
By 12 o’clock yesterday the snow had stopped falling. I was sleeping when it started so I can’t say for sure if it snowed continually for a certain amount of time, but enough snow had accumulated by the time I awoke and stepped boldly, smartphone camera in hand, towards the snow. I gulped a lungful of the cold, silent air, full of pitch darkness and brilliant whiteness. White is beautiful and it sets off the darkness. It didn’t take it away, as a light might do. It simply lay there and made the darkness darker. There was interplay between the dark night, the yellow street lights, each with a little misty halo, making them look like angels and the white snow. I tried to capture this beauty with my meagre camera but I don’t think I succeeded.
All the time, since I knew it was going to snow, I felt happy for my friend Jo, who flew out of Israel in good time, having met all the people here who would help him to bring more tourists from Holland, without getting too badly soaked. The rain still caught us on Sunday as we searched for the wedding hall, which I now know is called “View”, to join his ultra-orthodox friend Itzhak in celebrating his daughter’s wedding. He was right in there, taking his famous pictures, in the thick of the crowd around the Hupa (the marriage canopy) an important part of a Jewish wedding, symbolizing the married couple united in the Jewish home which they will establish to the joy of their family and all Israel, so that all the people in Holland and all over the world, who’ve never been to a Jewish wedding, will be able to see the great joy Jews express at this wonderful event.
The increase of the Jewish population in the world especially in Israel is not something we take lightly. I don’t like to harp on the losses we have suffered, especially here in Israel, but they play a part in the Jewish determination to increase and to be happy. I don’t think people consciously think about this as they celebrate a wedding or a circumcision, a barmitzva etc. but we have a custom of introducing a reminder of this suffering into every celebration. At weddings this reminder is the breaking of a glass.
This custom goes back to the days when the Book of Psalms was written, probably in the 6th or 7th century BCE, when the Jews were exiled by the Babylonians after these people had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and the city of Jerusalem. This dating is correct as can be seen from the context:
“4How can we sing the LORD'S song In a foreign land? 5If I forget you, O Jerusalem, May my right hand forget her skill. 6May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem Above my chief joy.
After reciting this at weddings for nearly 3000 years I don’t see how we can turn our backs on history and give parts of Israel to the Palestinians, even though the consequences may well be dire both for us and for them.
Jo brings people to Israel so that they can encourage the Jews in the difficult task of returning to their homeland. So far he’s brought about 20 groups through his organization, called Idoed Reizen (Encouragement Tours), with the help of My Tours, an agent in Israel. His purpose is to encourage Israel and thereby, encourage Christians in their Christian belief.
His philosophy and that of Christians who join his tours is that Christianity is vindicated by helping the Jewish People; Christianity bestows a task on the believer, a God given task to help the Jews and to bless them and so receive God’s blessing, as promised in the Torah.
Unfortunately Jews have suffered so long at the hands of Christianity that they look with suspicion at organizations like Jo’s, but it might be time for Jews to re-think their relationship with Christianity. This is also more possible now than it was previously, as Jews, having their own land should feel stronger and so be more courageous in meeting Christians and hearing Christian ideas. Being in our own land it should be easier to withstand the threat or temptations of converting to Christianity.
The idea that helping the Jews is a task which Christians have. It’s not something new in Christianity, it has always been there but it was forgotten, perhaps deliberately, in the process which was necessary for Christianity to undergo in establishing itself as a new religion, originating in Judaism, but separate from it.
It looks like this process has now reached fulfillment. Christianity now stands strongly on its own, and can now turn to the task for which, perhaps it came into existence originally, not to become Jews as many people think but to strengthen their Christian belief by helping the Jews.
Jo, in any event is pushing ahead in his plan to bring Christians to visit Israel, not just to find their Christian roots, as most tour companies do, but, more importantly to meet the Jews in their land and to find more ways to promote Jewish life in Israel.
He is convinced that Christians must support the Jewish People in their aspiration to live in the Land of Israel and to cultivate it and make it thrive.
Jo is the exception; most Christian groups visit Israel to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and to see the Jews practicing outdated, archaic rituals, that were suitable in Biblical times but have no place in modern society. They certainly don’t see the land as belonging to the Jews. They might well be impressed with the physical achievements of the Jews, which for them is another proof that the Jews are a clever bunch of people, with a kind of inherent cleverness. Actually this is a negative view attached to puzzlement about what the Jews are actually doing in the land where the Arabs have been living for the last 1000 years or so. For these people the Jews are a strange phenomenon in a land that does not belong to them.
When Israel is in trouble such as being at war or suffering a spate of terrorist attacks these Christian groups, naturally stay away. Firstly they don’t want to be hurt but, let’s face it mostly they stay away because they have a conviction and perhaps even a hope that the Jews will fail in their project here and meet disaster at the hands of the Arabs and finally return to Europe or America. This is like saying:
“okay children, you’ve had your fun, now go back to your mamas and papas, who will take care of you and keep you out of mischief and let these good people carry on their peaceful lives.”
This is not the case with Jo; Christians deliberately follow him here in times of danger because that is the time to encourage the Jews and to help them.
Jo is showing Christians the way to fulfill their Christian obligations. Admittedly we have done wonders here, mostly without the help of Christians, but let’s face it: “the Jews need the Christians to help them” and Jo would retort: “and Christians need Jews to help them be good Christians.”
It would be a mistake to think that Jo’s movement is popular either among Christians or Jews.
Sad to say most of the Christian world still dreams of Jews converting to Christianity as a way to save the world. For Christians who think like that a failure of the Jewish project in Israel might bring their ideal closer to realization.
By turning their back on their history and giving up control of land where, according to them, their ancestors lived, Jews would be relegating Judaism to an archaic religion, replete with meaningless customs and rituals and the real obstacle, to converting to Christianity, namely the historic attachment of the Jews to the Land of Israel, would be removed.
Being aware of strength of this obstacle, Christianity already broke this attachment in the 6th century by forming Catholicism and declaring Rome as the center of the religion, with the Pope, God’s representative of Christ ruling from there and not from Jerusalem.
There are many people in Israel today who are willing to give up parts of Israel and Jerusalem to the Palestinian People. Unfortunately for the Palestinians and the Jews this is impossible, even though physically, technically we can declare certain areas to be Palestinian.
The earth has recognized its real owners and responds to their touch and the Jews have recognized their earth and caress it with loving affection. The land and the Jews will never be separated. They will embrace forever.