By Rabbi Ari Sunshine
The Talmud in tractate Ta’anit 5a speaks of “Yerushalayim shel ma’alah” (the heavenly Jerusalem) and “Yerushalayim shel matah” (the lower, or earthly, Jerusalem), when Rabbi Yohanan explains that God won’t enter the heavenly Jerusalem until first entering the earthly Jerusalem.
This teaching from a third century C.E. rabbi is probably one of the first attempts in our tradition to articulate the challenge of balancing our ideal vision of a spiritually uplifting and pure Jerusalem with the reality of a city on the ground that has real world issues. This week we once again experienced that pull in both directions when we witnessed the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, a landmark event that affirmed the multi-millennium unbreakable bond between the Jewish people and the capital city of Israel, and at the same time illustrated the tension and conflict that continues unabated between Israel and the Palestinians. Too often in our relationship with Israel as American Jews these days it feels like we are being forced to choose one vision or the other: either we look at Jerusalem, and Israel, as something that is heavenly and flawless, and love Israel passionately in that way, or we look at Israel as a place that is too “earthly” and flawed to be able to love.
But why does it have to be that way? As I’ve shared before in various contexts and conversations in our community this year, I would encourage us to work harder to hold on to elements of both of these conceptions of Israel, to balance them together, and to love Israel for the fact that it is heavenly and utterly, idyllically beautiful, as well as for the fact that Israel is a real world country facing challenges internally in its society as well as external challenges, just like any country that just turned 70 years old should be expected to be facing. There is so much about Israel that takes our breath away and overpowers us emotionally, just as there are moments when Israel’s earthly reality challenges us greatly. But love is not just about loving a spouse, a partner, a family member, or a friend only when we’re happy and totally and unequivocally in sync with that person; it means we love them and treasure the relationship and support them even when we are not in sync with them or feeling temporarily out of touch. And the same analogy can be applied to our relationship with Israel. We can be perplexed with Israel at times and still be madly in love with her and want to be her companion, friend, and partner. And that’s partly because even amidst Israel’s real world challenges, if we close our eyes and visualize beautiful treasured memories we’ve experienced or shared through the eyes of family or friends—archeological digs, the bustling Machaneh Yehuda market on Friday afternoon, the beach in Tel Aviv, the underground bullet factory from pre-state days at the Ayalon Institute, the art galleries and beautiful historic synagogues of the mystical city of Tzefat, the jeep rides on the Golan Heights, rafting down the “mighty” Jordan River, floating in the Dead Sea, sitting in Abraham’s tent in the Judean Desert watching a sunset so majestic it is difficult to describe, visiting the Old City of Jerusalem and davening at the Kotel and Robinson’s Arch, a spirited Kabbalat Shabbat at the First Station Compound in Jerusalem with tourists and Israelis, religious and secular coming together in song and prayer, Yad Vashem, the graves at Mt. Herzl of soldiers and statesmen and stateswomen who dedicated their lives to Israel, Yad LaKashish (Lifeline for the Aging, the amazing employment project that help’s Jerusalem’s elderly), and so much more—if we just picture these moments, we fall in love all over again with Israel.
In that spirit, I am excited to invite you to join me and my family next summer, June 23-July 5, 2019, for Shearith’s Multi-Generational Mission to Israel. We have an amazing trip in store for people of all ages, first time visitors to Israel and veteran Israel travelers, and I’d love for you to be a part of this incredible journey with us. We’ll be holding a no-obligation information session with Larry Ritter from ITC (Israel Tour Connection), our travel agency for this trip, on Wednesday night, May 30, from 7:00-9:00 PM in the Pidgeon Family Theater at Shearith Israel. Light refreshments will be served. We’ll talk through our draft itinerary day by day and answer any and all questions you might have about the trip. Please RSVP to Theresa at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are planning to attend the meeting. If you can’t make the meeting but might be interested in the trip, please let Theresa know that as well. Feel free to be in touch with me directly as well if you have questions. We’ll be sending out a flyer and application shortly. I’m also thrilled to announce that Angela Aaron Horowitz and Doug French will be our first mission co-chairs, we hope to soon be announcing another set of chairs to join them in their efforts to recruit a wonderful group of travelers for our pilgrimage!
L’shana Ha-ba’ah Bi-Yerushalayim--
Next year in Jerusalem with Shearith Israel!
Rabbi Ari Sunshine
Shearith Israel clergy, staff and congregants share