City of Peace

In just a few days, the Jewish world will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, the anniversary of the reunification of the City of Jerusalem. Almost 50 years ago, near the end of the Six Day War, soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces entered the Old City and stood at the Kotel, the Western Wall, where they prayed and wept and sang songs of joy. A city, once divided, was once again whole and open to be explored and enjoyed.

I never tire of being in Jerusalem, more than any other city or town in Israel or anywhere in the world. There is a quiet beauty, an unspoken majesty that is also humble. There is a sense one feels when walking the streets of Jerusalem that the city holds secrets within each stone, that there are stories to be told at each turn of the road, that every corner looks unexplored and is beckoning to be discovered. Jerusalem holds the history of our people from the beginning of our time in this world to this very moment. It is ever changing and modernizing, yet seems to exist serenely blending together the old and the new. Jerusalem is as breathtaking as any place in the world, yet feels like home.

Jerusalem lies at the heart of Jewish consciousness. Its name though, while it triggers beautiful associations and is uttered countless times in prayer and poetry, enters the Jewish lexicon in an unassuming way. Scholars believe that Yerushalayim probably originated as Uru Shalmanu, “our God lives here” in an ancient Semitic language. The voice of the Midrash, waxing nostalgic and hopeful, innovated the popular idea that the name Yerushalayim has its roots in Ir Shalom, or City of Peace. We, their descendants, echo their prayers for peace in the city that we love.

But what does the word Shalom actually mean? In popular Hebrew parlance, Shalom is a greeting that is usually understood as “peace.” But there’s another way to understand Shalom, not as peace or the absence of conflict, but as everything being in its proper place. Shalom is God’s vision of a world where everyone and everything is where it’s supposed to be. If that is the case, then the opposite of Shalom is not war but Galut, exile, scattering. Galut is not a geographical concept, it’s a psychological one. When people or things are out of place, when their lives are out of order, when people are unable to fulfill their potential or live lives of dignity, then there is no Shalom.

Sha’alu Sh’lom Yerushalayim…pray for the peace of Jerusalem, the psalms tell us. On this Yom Yerushalayim, let us pray for shalom, for a world in which everyone and everything is in its proper place, both physically and spiritually. Let us resolve to do what we can to make that happen.