As Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. leaders prepare for the peace conference in Annapolis, Md., during the week of Nov. ‘6, Jewish groups across the country are taking their own stands against putting a divided Jerusalem on the negotiating table.
Jews pray at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, in the Old City of Jerusalem, in September. REUTERS/Oleg Popov
The Orthodox Union has scheduled this Shabbat to be Shabbat Yerushalayim and has asked its hundreds of member synagogues to observe the day with increased prayer and learning about the significance of Jerusalem and the possible dangers of dividing the city.
"We want to unite the community in the message of united Jerusalem and keep it ours," said Rabbi Bini Maryles, director of synagogue services at the OU, who is overseeing the program.
The OU is providing its synagogues with materials to help them educate their congregants this weekend, including signs with the slogan "Jerusalem: Keep it One. Keep it Ours"; an NCSY pamphlet featuring biblical references to Jerusalem and how the city is featured in Jewish prayer; a model sermon written by the OU’s executive vice president, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb; and a selection of talking points on the capital.
"Different synagogues can use the program as they like," Maryles said. "We like them to have a full experience."
While the OU would like to see an effect on the political process, the idea behind Shabbat Yerushalayim, Maryles continued, "is simply educating people on both sides of the issue of dividing Jerusalem," he said.
This particular Shabbat is of great significance for Jerusalem. Parasha Vayetze deals with the marriage of Jacob to Rachel and Leah, which culminates in the 1′ tribes of Israel. In the portion, Jacob’s dream of the ladder takes place on the spot where the future Temple would be built.
"He senses the awesome nature of the place and the presence of holiness," Maryles said. "That place is the heart of Jerusalem."
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin of Cong. Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn said that although his shul is holding a bar mitzvah this weekend, he would work in the Jerusalem theme.
"People should realize that once again we’re up against troubled times," he said Wednesday. "My charge to the bar mitzvah boy is going to be: Just as he comes from a proud Sefardi family that survived Russian tyranny, we as Jewish people remain steadfast."
Yudin has a message for his congregation as well this Shabbat.
"There are things that are integral parts of our peoplehood and Yerushalayim is one of them," Yudin said. "It’s not simply cultural, it’s not simply political or historical. It is religious. Therefore, the way you wouldn’t negotiate on tefillin or Shabbos, we don’t negotiate on Yerushalayim."
Maryles was unsure as to how many of the OU’s hundreds of synagogues across North America would actually participate. Last month, the OU asked its synagogues for increased prayer and study on behalf of an undivided Jerusalem. Shabbat Yerushalayim planning began within the past four weeks, after talks of the Annapolis conference became more concrete and Israel’s Vice Premier Haim Ramon said Israel would consider ceding Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
In addition to the spiritual component, the OU is also working on letter-writing and phone campaigns with the larger Coordinating Council for Jerusalem’s Future, a coalition of American Jewish organizations working to send policymakers the message that Jerusalem must remain the "undivided, eternal capital of Israel."
Another group, Defending Jerusalem Coalition, is holding rallies around the country to show opposition to dividing Jerusalem. Made up of the groups Shalom International and Americans For A Safe Israel, the coalition held a rally Sunday at the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Nashville, Tenn., which drew 50 people.
"We have to be out there, we have to be visible, and we have to tell Mr. Olmert this is not yours to give away," Bob Kunst, president of Shalom International, told the Standard Wednesday. Members of the government are "simply caretakers in Israel. Our message is to get rid of Olmert, not Jerusalem."
Kunst drew a parallel between the Annapolis conference and the 1938 meeting in Munich where British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain came away thinking the Nazi threat had been abated.
"We see parallels very strongly that this is Munich II," Kunst said. "We’re giving up land for nothing. Dividing Jerusalem is unconscionable."
A rally is planned at the White House on Nov. ‘5 and another is scheduled in Annapolis on Nov. ‘7, keyed to the conference. The group is trying to arrange for buses from New York to Washington for the rallies but with only 50 people at the Nashville rally and 30 at an earlier rally in Florida, Kunst is disappointed by the failure of a larger grassroots movement to mobilize.
"I’ve never seen something so dangerous being proposed and so little debate in our community," he said. "How can something so dangerous get so little attention?"