By: Rabbi Reuven Poupko and Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz
It was a remarkable evening.
On May 15th a reception organized by The Canada-Israel Committee (CIC) in conjunction with the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC) and the Jerusalem Foundation took place in the Speaker’s Salon on Parliament Hill. Over 100 parliamentarians were welcomed by the Speaker of the House of Commons, Peter Milliken, as well as by Israel’s Ambassador Alan Baker. But this was no ordinary after hours cocktail party; the MP’s had come to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.
The CIC and CJPAC deserve the heartiest congratulations for organizing a reception of this kind. Jerusalem is still a sensitive issue and many countries including Canada still do not recognize it as the capital of Israel. CIC and CJPAC also deserve praise for arranging for the publication of an ad in the Canadian Jewish News which saw close to 80 parliamentarians sign their names to a declaration that stated:
“We, the undersigned, join in celebrating the 40th anniversary of a reunited Jerusalem that is open to the world, encourages freedom of worship and protects the right of each religion and faith group to full access and authority at its holy sites.”
Unfortunately, there are still too many voices, informed by historical amnesia, that attempt to deny the tangible benefits enjoyed by all faiths due to Israel’s extraordinary stewardship of Jerusalem since 1967. The senators and MPs who came to celebrate now understand that only since reunification, is Jerusalem a city of tolerance where all religions and holy places are respected and protected.
This united group of parliamentarians now understands that it is only under Israeli sovereignty that all religions have complete freedom of worship in Jerusalem. When the city was under Jordanian control from 1948- 67, Jewish holy sites were desecrated., 58 synagogues demolished, and part of the ancient cemetery on the Mount of Olives paved over to make way for a hotel. Jews were barred from visiting the Western Wall. Any Jew who wanted to catch a glimpse of Judaism’s most holy site had to stand on a ledge on Mt. Zion and strain for a view.
The MPs and senators came to honor Israel’s record in Jerusalem. Over the last 40 years Israel has acted as a faithful guardian of Jerusalem for all religions, for Jews, Muslims and Christians. Indeed, this remarkable record is unique in the Middle East, one which should be held up as a model for the entire region.
The MPs and senators also came to recognize history. Jerusalem has been the heart and soul of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. This capital, first established by King David, has been the setting for many of the important events in the Bible and Jewish history. It is a city that was inhabited by prophets, poets, priests and kings. David, Solomon and Hezekiah ruled here. Hillel and Akiva walked her streets. It is impossible to imagine Jewish or Christian history without Jerusalem.
The evening was filled with genuine warmth and spirit. Members of our organization, the Canadian Rabbinic Caucus, attended the reception and struck up friendships with the parliamentarians. Naomi Azrieli, spoke eloquently about the work done by the Jerusalem Foundation on behalf of all citizens of Jerusalem, regardless of race, creed or colour. Inspiration was in the air.
Indeed, the idea of Jerusalem has inspired humanity for the last 3,000 years. Democracies like Canada and Israel, which value human rights and freedom, are inspired by the ideals of Jerusalem as embodied in the words of Jeremiah and Isaiah, who spoke about justice, charity and peace. After 1900 years of exile Jerusalem is no longer a dream, but rather a vibrant modern city that is the repository of our heritage and an expression of our ethical vision.
The Jerusalem of today is in some very significant ways more inspiring than even the ancient Jerusalem. That reality is what unified Parliament Hill on May 15th.