By Larry Gordon
After you experience a Friday night on Shabbos Chanukah at the Kotel, you can have no doubts that this is indeed a holy city. But holiness is not only conceptual or invisible, it is also palpable, substantive, and something you can immerse yourself in or actually grab a hold of with your hands and feet.
Take this past Saturday night in the well-appointed, wide, Jerusalem-stone shopping corridors of the Mamilla Mall. The blaring Chassidic music infused a giddiness amongst the throngs of young people dancing with unbridled joy—men on one side, women on the other. It was a rapturous celebration of so many things to enjoy on a spring-like night here in the middle of winter.
The singing and dancing was about being in Jerusalem, about the knowledge and consciousness of this giant step forward after all these decades. An important part of the non-Jewish world finally articulated the indisputable reality and connection between Jews, Israel, and this city.
Maybe we can thank Donald Trump for that or perhaps we can thank a combination of Mr. Trump and Yehudah HaMaccabee, who, almost 2,000 years ago, took a stand on Jerusalem not that dissimilar to the one the U.S. president took two weeks ago.
On the first of Chanukah, the local press here reported on a small group from Bahrain that was on a quiet, under-the-radar, unofficial visit to Israel. Bahrain, as you are aware, is a Muslim Arab country with no diplomatic relations with Israel. But in these new, miraculously routine, trailblazing times we are living in, the press reported that the Bahrainis were in the Mamilla Mall that night and that they joined the dancing and singing sponsored by Chabad of Talbiya. There were Arabs and Jews celebrating Chanukah in a fashion that perhaps only the security detail in the mall knew about. For those few moments, the pruning hooks were turned into plowshares and the lion and the lamb were dancing together as the words of the ancient prophets came to life.
The news on CNN and Fox that we can view here in Israel only tells you about the violent protests that the Trump pronouncement on Jerusalem has seemed to have evoked from radical Islamic capitals. While these protests are being fought and minimized by Israeli forces near the Gaza border and in Palestinian cities like Ramallah and perhaps on the outskirts of Jerusalem, here in the central part of the city it was an idyllic Shabbos Chanukah.
In the Old City, young boys and girls played in the square adjacent to the Churva Synagogue. Birthright groups stood arm in arm outside the Kotel Plaza, ushering in the Shabbos, while the area directly in front of the Kotel was teeming with Jews from all over the world dancing to Lecha Dodi and spinning around at Bo’ee V’Shalom to welcome the Shabbos Queen.
Earlier this week, Jerusalem was in high gear preparing for the delayed visit of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. King David Street was adorned with both Israeli and American flags on early Sunday morning in preparation for the visit. The vice president was supposed to arrive on Sunday and address the Knesset on Monday. With the tax-reform vote looming at the time in Washington, DC, and the need for the possibility of a tie-breaking vote by Mr. Pence, the VP postponed his trip until mid-January.
Here in Jerusalem, staying this time around at the leading Middle Eastern hotel—the inimitable Waldorf Astoria—we were sandwiched in between the two vice-presidential venues.
Just up the street is the historic King David Hotel where the vice president and his family are expected to be staying. Down the rather steep avenue is the David Citadel Hotel where the vice president’s staff and security team plan to take up some 200-plus rooms. On Sunday, as we met with the distinguished general manager of the David Citadel, Rodney Sanders, we watched as buses with White House personnel pulled up to the entrance of the hotel with the vice-presidential team beginning to check in.
When a high official like the vice president comes to Israel, it is a major and important event on a multiplicity of levels. The Pence visit on the heels of the Trump announcement on Jerusalem is a reiteration of the new U.S. position on Israel’s capital. In a way, it is like the VP visit solidifies and expresses how unwavering and solid the U.S.–Israel relationship really is.
Looking back now from this vantage point, we understand how hollow and not serious all the previous expressions of support for a united Jerusalem really were. And that dates back to the Clinton administration, eight years of George W. Bush who was considered the best friend Israel ever had in Washington, and the eight-year reign of the Obama administration.
Bear in mind that it was during the Clinton years that the Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed in 1995, mandating that the U.S. diplomatic headquarters be moved to the capital. So all Mr. Trump was doing was enacting a law that has been on the books for 22 years. There was no new groundbreaking here, except for the site where the embassy will eventually be built.
The Trump presidency has for the most part been navigating a rocky road. But it is on the issue of Israel, the Middle East, and in particular on the matter of peace with the Palestinians that Trump and his team have achieved the most clarity.
The issue of Israel might be the only one of the Trump policies that the Democrats in Congress are not seeking to undermine at every turn. For his part, though the desire to contradict the president on Jerusalem must have been tempting for Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, he restrained that usual reflex that he has developed and sided with the president by supporting the recognition of Jerusalem and Israel’s capital.
So let’s take a step back for just a few lines here and try to assess which right-minded people around the world genuinely believe that Jerusalem can ever be extricated or severed in any way from Israel. Well, there is the United Nations and the European Union, most of the Muslim world, and a few others like Russia (on both sides, actually) and of course the terror-run dictatorships sprinkled around today’s world.
But then again these are mostly countries or groups run and managed by wrong-minded people, so when it comes to Jerusalem they have gotten it all wrong and will continue to do so as a matter of asserting their desperate survival instincts.
Under Trump and Pence, the Palestinians are in the process of relegating that cause to a secondary one. The not-so-hidden secret is that this is being done with the consent and support of the Sunni Gulf states that are at odds with the radical regimes in Iran and every other Muslim country that is afraid of Iran, like Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and other non-functioning countries like Libya and Yemen.
Donald Trump’s innovation is that Palestinian intransigence all along has never been about territory or ideology. The president, as a consummate businessman, recognized that it is all essentially about big money. Hamas is in the game for the moolah, as is Mahmoud Abbas and his children, who have become billionaires by pocketing a fair amount of the foreign aid that flows in their direction.
In the meantime, the hills here in Jerusalem are alive as the words of the Al HaNissim are played out before our very eyes here on the streets of the capital. As we recited several times a day over the eight day of Chanukah, “You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah. You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world and effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Israel to this very day.”
Words that were never truer than they are at present.
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