Letters of Love to Jerusalem

MY JERUSALEM: The Eternal City
Ilan Greenfield, Editor
Ziv Koren, Photography
Published by Gefen Publishing House and
Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, 2017/5778

I love Chicago.  It's the city in which I lived from birth into retirement.  I can describe the skyline on Lake Michigan, with its majestic sunrise and sunset.  Every neighborhood is its own architectural marvel crowned with lush greenery.  But I will never describe Chicago or Boston or New York or Sedona as eloquently as Matthew Bronfman does in My Jerusalem: The Eternal City.  Bronfman's romance with Jerusalem is in "its breathtaking glory."  Bronfman is one of 48 contributors proffering letters of love to Jerusalem, enriching its reputation by juxtaposed elegant and rich photographs.

On the dust jacket, the name Jerusalem is embossed in gold set against a night-lit orange photograph of the Tower of David (or Jerusalem Citadel).  This touch epitomizes its sobriquet, The City of Gold, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, popular in Hebrew verse and song, the words to which appear on the first page.  It is the place, writes Shimon Peres, where "every morning, at the moment when the sun rises ... it is as if heaven and earth have met."

At first glance, I looked forward to an emotion-filled experience through a magical photographer's eye.  Ziv Koren's works of art do not fail me.  But the book is so much more.  My Jerusalem is a compendium of personal love letters assembled by Ilan Greenfield's selection of Jewish and Christian leaders to a city built by a king of the Jews.  She is a city under siege for some 2,000 years but endowed as the holiest of holy places on Earth for three monotheistic religions.

Most contributors know her only as a city rebuilt and designated the capital of modern Israel.  But Ilan Greenfield has assembled My Jerusalem contributors spanning generations.  President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu recall childhood memories of growing up in war-torn and divided Jerusalem from 1948 to 1967.  The P.M. describes the city divided by barbed-wire fences laden with land mines and a garbage dump "with snipers on the walls."  "[S]trangled, it was withered, it had no future" until its liberation in 1967.  Then there is a heartwarming picture of the president hiking his old pacified trails in the hills of Jerusalem.

Editor Greenfield complements the romantic without giving short shrift to the controversies Jerusalem inspires, as any beautiful maiden does among anxious suitors.  Greenfield declares in the publisher's note that she is mine, My Jerusalem, "the eternal capital of the Jewish people," not only an eternal city.  The book's dedication is "[t]o the land and people of Israel with deep gratitude for a life of meaning and the privilege of being part of the wondrous Zionist enterprise."  

"Yerushalayim Shel Zahav," written by Naomi Shemer, is a wildly popular complement to Israel's national anthem.  Is it coincidence that the melody is based on a Basque lullaby, from a province of Spain, fighting for generations for independence?  Moreover, her sister province, Catalonia, is enduring armed, club-wielding, anti-freedom repressors concomitant to the release of My Jerusalem, which daily faces threats to her independence and Jewish heritage from international world bodies and foreign former oppressors of the Jews.

The introduction from Alan Dershowitz, a political raconteur, wastes little time reminding readers that Jerusalem is "one of the most divisive political hot spots in the world."  We all know that.  I might have placed a born and raised Jerusalemite like President Rivlin to introduce the book.  Rivlin gives authenticity: "The history of Jerusalem in the early years of the state is also my personal and family history."

It seems that Greenfield chooses his authors for the influence and power they wield.  So few of the authors reside in Israel, let alone Jerusalem, that several of the testimonials stir imaginations of a Disneyland experience – a place to visit, and I'll feel bad if it closes.    

Christians and Jews tell their stories, but no Arab Israeli Christians, Muslims or Haredi leaders are contributors – despite pictures, for instance, that capture their peoples' passion and love for Jerusalem.  Is there not one who loves Jerusalem intensely as Jews and Evangelicals?  Several notable photographs capture "others," like the Arab with his donkey in a mix of IDF men and women; an overhead shot of Muslim men prostrate on prayer rugs emitting such force that one can almost hear them; an Arab woman hanging laundry overlooking the rubble from neglect of municipal services; an incongruous photograph of two smiling Arab women in conversation with a Border Patrol officer complemented by a missive from Bret Stephens about the Second Intifada and Yasser Arafat; and another Arab mother children in tow sans any expression of joy, in contrast to the numerous photos of frolicking Jewish children and celebrations throughout the city.  There is a poignant photo of an honor guard on the page next to Yitzhak Rabin's statement of how Jerusalem is the depository of centuries of tears and pride.

I recommend My Jerusalem be given as a parting gift to every student who spends time studying in Israel, and to every tourist to remind him of a lover lost to another place.  It is a book of art for everyone who desires to live in Jerusalem and for those who want to understand what makes Jerusalem different.  To paraphrase Shai Agnon, Greenfield and Koren significantly add to the study of Jerusalem, and "you have done well."

Dr. Harold Goldmeier is a public speaker and writer and teaches international university students in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.  His book Healthcare Insights: Better Care Better Business is available on Amazon.  His articles and reviews appear on American Thinker, Arutz 7, Life in Israel, and in the Jerusalem Post and more.  He was a research and teaching fellow at Harvard. 

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