Benjamin Krasna, deputy consul general of the Israel Consulate General in New York, will be the featured speaker at a community-wide celebration of Yom Yerushaliyim, Jerusalem Day, planned for Wednesday, May 16, at 7 p.m. at Cong. Gesher Shalom, the JCC of Fort Lee. The date coincides with the ‘8th of Iyar on the Hebrew calendar, the 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem that marked the victory of the Six Day War in 1967.
The occasion will be especially lively this year because of the anniversary, said David Hyman, community shaliach at United Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, whose Israel Program Center and the Jewish Community Relations Council is co-sponsoring the local festivities. (See page 31.)
Krasna, who made aliyah in 1986 after graduating from Rutgers University with a bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern studies, later earned master’s degrees in international management in a joint program of Boston University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and in international relations from Johns Hopkins University’s School of International Studies in Washington.
He said, in a telephone interview, that he will focus his remarks on the importance of Jerusalem and its centrality to Jewish life in Israel and the diaspora and emphasize how the city has developed in the past 40 years.
At the same time, said Krasna, he will encourage those seeking business and investment opportunities to keep Jerusalem top-of-mind, adding that even with its strong economic base, more can be accomplished. One of the city’s challenges, he noted, was a shortage of affordable housing for young families.
Krasna is also concerned about polishing Jerusalem’s image abroad and securing its future as the capital of Israel. "We have to still speak out very clearly of our belief that Jerusalem has to remain the eternal capital of Israel and the Jewish people and that people understand its significance and its history. Never before has Jerusalem been a freer or more thriving city and never has there been greater access to all of Jerusalem’s holy sites for all religions as there has been in the last 40 years."
Questioned about the potential division of Jerusalem if East Jerusalem is designated the capital of an eventual independent Palestinian state, Krasna said, "How to settle the very difficult political question will have to be part of the final settlement, and we don’t deny that it is part of final-status negotiations, like the issues of borders and refugees, but that can only happen when we have a partner with whom to discuss peace. We need a partner we can trust and rely on to live up to its commitments and recognize that terror is unacceptable and Israel has the right to exist as a safe, democratic Jewish state within safe borders with Jerusalem as its capital."
Before his return to the United States in his current post, Krasna served as a spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in The Hague and as deputy consul general in Istanbul. "The Turks often said to me," he recalled, "that one of their complaints about Suleiman the Magnificent [the Ottoman emperor, also known as "the lawgiver," who reigned from 15’0 to 1566] was that his greatest architectural feat was not in Turkey but it was Jerusalem." Suleiman’s military conquests included annexation of most of the Middle East.
After Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Jerusalem’s Old City, half of the municipality, remained in Jordanian hands, noted Hyman. When war broke out in 1967, with Egypt in the Sinai to the south and with Syria in the Golan to the north, Jerusalem was not originally in the Israeli military sights. "To everyone’s surprise," said Hyman, "Jordan opened up another front and Israel seized the opportunity to reunify the city."
The conquering heroes were members of the 55th paratrooper brigade, a reserve unit under the command of Mordechai "Motta" Gur.
In addition to Krasna’s remarks, there will be a musical presentation by Gesher Shalom’s cantor, Paul Zim, and readings by the synagogue youth group of "Six Days and the Seven Gates of Jerusalem," a fictional account of the reunification, coordinated by Social Action Committee chairs Martha and David Cohen. A visiting group of middle-school students from the Amal School in Nahariya will participate as well, with songs and readings.
The event is free and open to the community.