An Historic Synagogue Reopens to Joy and Sadness

The first time I glimpsed the ruins of the Hurva Synagogue was in 1991, when, during a week-long stay in Jerusalem, my wife and I toured the Old City several times. It quickly became a ritual -- enter via Jaffa Gate, make a right turn toward the Armenian Quarter, and on to the Jewish Quarter. It was there, short of our destination -- the Kotel, or Western Wall -- that we noticed the imposing fifty-foot-high arch, the only remaining part of what was once the premier synagogue in Jerusalem.

The Hurva was the the Jewish landmark in Jerusalem in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a magnet for early Zionists, religious and non-religious. Theodore Herzl was a visitor, and so were many other Jewish notables from far and wide.

The first synagogue on the site was built in 1701. Jews had obtained a loan for its construction from Muslims. But Jerusalem's Jewish community, mired in poverty, couldn't repay the debt, so Muslim creditors destroyed the synagogue.

But Jewish residents, with some outside help, rebuilt the Hurva and turned it into a magnificent landmark...that is, until 1948, when less than two weeks after Israel declared independence, Jordanian forces moved into the Old City and destroyed the Hurva -- with only the great arch left as a reminder of its former glory. And so it remained for six decades. From 1948 until 1967, Jews were barred by Jordan from even approaching the Hurva ruins, just as they were barred from praying at the Western Wall. After Israel captured the Old City in 1967, the Hurva Arch stood for many years as a stark reminder of a sad chapter in Jewish history.

Then a meticulous rebuilding and renovation effort was begun several years ago. It culminated on March 15, 2010 in the official reopening of the Hurva as an exact replica of the 19th-century synagogue, including the surviving Arch, which is now a permanent part of the new Hurva. Henceforth, it won't just be a dramatic reminder of the past; it will resume its age-old function as a place of worship.

So quite understandably, the rebirth of the Hurva is a moment of great joy for Jerusalem, for Israel, and for Jews everywhere.

But it is a great joy mixed with great sadness.

Why sadness? Because in the run-up to the Hurva's reopening, the Palestinian Authority launched a vicious campaign of incitement, claiming that the Hurva was a prelude to Jewish designs to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque on nearby Temple Mount along with a Jewish conspiracy to replace it with a Third Jewish Temple.

Why sadness? Because the Palestinian Authority issued a call to Israeli Arabs and Palestinians to come to the Old City and "defend" Al-Aqsa against Jewish depredations. Khalem Abdel Kader, the holder of Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Jerusalem portfolio, called the renovation of the Hurva a "provocation," accusing Israel of "playing with fire" for daring to reopen an ancient Jewish place of worship twice destroyed by Muslims.

Why sadness? Because Israeli authorities, in the light of such incendiary incitement, had to marshal thousands of police to prevent a conflagration.

Why sadness? Because in response to the PA's call for a massive march on the Old City and Temple Mount, the mayor of a Bedouin city in Israel's Negev heeded the PA's call to arms and assembled busloads of protesters to head toward Jerusalem.

Why sadness? Because just as the Hurva came to life again, Israeli President Shimon Peres told the visiting president of Brazil that Israel respects and safeguards all religious sites -- Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Then, added ever the cockeyed optimist, "and vice-versa." While the first part of Peres' comment was right on the mark -- the "vice-versa" was sadly missing.

Why sadness?  Because the inflammatory PA campaign against the renovated Hurva Synagogue received only a gentle, belated expression of "concern" from a State Department spokesman that fell well short of its far more muscular attack on Israel's plans for more housing in a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem,  giving the lie to Vice President Biden's assurances during his Israel visit that the Obama administration would hold BOTH Israel and the PA  equally accountable for any moves that undermined the peace process and threatened resumption of peace negotiations.   While Hillary Clinton unleashed a brutal attack on Israel in a 45-mnute call to Netanyahu, there was no similar call from her to Mahmoud Abbas to denounce his campaign of incitement against Israel and Hurva's reopening, and to demand specific redress. 

Why sadness?  Because  the silence of American Jews, especially the 78 percent who voted for Obama, was truly deafening, as was the silence of the great majority of American rabbis.  A silence that only serves to give license to Obama's escalating campaign of Israel-bashing, coupled with his tolerance of wave after wave of the most toxic incitement by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority against Israel, especially their continued glorification of Palestinian terrorists as laudable ''martyrs.'' 
The first time I glimpsed the ruins of the Hurva Synagogue was in 1991, when, during a week-long stay in Jerusalem, my wife and I toured the Old City several times. It quickly became a ritual -- enter via Jaffa Gate, make a right turn toward the Armenian Quarter, and on to the Jewish Quarter. It was there, short of our destination -- the Kotel, or Western Wall -- that we noticed the imposing fifty-foot-high arch, the only remaining part of what was once the premier synagogue in Jerusalem.

The Hurva was the the Jewish landmark in Jerusalem in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was a magnet for early Zionists, religious and non-religious. Theodore Herzl was a visitor, and so were many other Jewish notables from far and wide.

The first synagogue on the site was built in 1701. Jews had obtained a loan for its construction from Muslims. But Jerusalem's Jewish community, mired in poverty, couldn't repay the debt, so Muslim creditors destroyed the synagogue.

But Jewish residents, with some outside help, rebuilt the Hurva and turned it into a magnificent landmark...that is, until 1948, when less than two weeks after Israel declared independence, Jordanian forces moved into the Old City and destroyed the Hurva -- with only the great arch left as a reminder of its former glory. And so it remained for six decades. From 1948 until 1967, Jews were barred by Jordan from even approaching the Hurva ruins, just as they were barred from praying at the Western Wall. After Israel captured the Old City in 1967, the Hurva Arch stood for many years as a stark reminder of a sad chapter in Jewish history.

Then a meticulous rebuilding and renovation effort was begun several years ago. It culminated on March 15, 2010 in the official reopening of the Hurva as an exact replica of the 19th-century synagogue, including the surviving Arch, which is now a permanent part of the new Hurva. Henceforth, it won't just be a dramatic reminder of the past; it will resume its age-old function as a place of worship.

So quite understandably, the rebirth of the Hurva is a moment of great joy for Jerusalem, for Israel, and for Jews everywhere.

But it is a great joy mixed with great sadness.

Why sadness? Because in the run-up to the Hurva's reopening, the Palestinian Authority launched a vicious campaign of incitement, claiming that the Hurva was a prelude to Jewish designs to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque on nearby Temple Mount along with a Jewish conspiracy to replace it with a Third Jewish Temple.

Why sadness? Because the Palestinian Authority issued a call to Israeli Arabs and Palestinians to come to the Old City and "defend" Al-Aqsa against Jewish depredations. Khalem Abdel Kader, the holder of Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah Jerusalem portfolio, called the renovation of the Hurva a "provocation," accusing Israel of "playing with fire" for daring to reopen an ancient Jewish place of worship twice destroyed by Muslims.

Why sadness? Because Israeli authorities, in the light of such incendiary incitement, had to marshal thousands of police to prevent a conflagration.

Why sadness? Because in response to the PA's call for a massive march on the Old City and Temple Mount, the mayor of a Bedouin city in Israel's Negev heeded the PA's call to arms and assembled busloads of protesters to head toward Jerusalem.

Why sadness? Because just as the Hurva came to life again, Israeli President Shimon Peres told the visiting president of Brazil that Israel respects and safeguards all religious sites -- Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Then, added ever the cockeyed optimist, "and vice-versa." While the first part of Peres' comment was right on the mark -- the "vice-versa" was sadly missing.

Why sadness?  Because the inflammatory PA campaign against the renovated Hurva Synagogue received only a gentle, belated expression of "concern" from a State Department spokesman that fell well short of its far more muscular attack on Israel's plans for more housing in a Jewish neighborhood of East Jerusalem,  giving the lie to Vice President Biden's assurances during his Israel visit that the Obama administration would hold BOTH Israel and the PA  equally accountable for any moves that undermined the peace process and threatened resumption of peace negotiations.   While Hillary Clinton unleashed a brutal attack on Israel in a 45-mnute call to Netanyahu, there was no similar call from her to Mahmoud Abbas to denounce his campaign of incitement against Israel and Hurva's reopening, and to demand specific redress. 

Why sadness?  Because  the silence of American Jews, especially the 78 percent who voted for Obama, was truly deafening, as was the silence of the great majority of American rabbis.  A silence that only serves to give license to Obama's escalating campaign of Israel-bashing, coupled with his tolerance of wave after wave of the most toxic incitement by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority against Israel, especially their continued glorification of Palestinian terrorists as laudable ''martyrs.''