Op-Ed: Jerusalem State of Mind
Yonatan SredniYonatan Sredni lives in Israel and has an MA in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University.
I enjoy looking up celebrity birthdays. I myself share a birthday with the late great film actor Paul Newman, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky and TV talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres. But this week one particular famous birthday caught my eye. On May 9th, Grammy award winning singer-songwriter Billy Joel turns 64.
It’s hard to believe that ‘The Piano Man’, the Bronx born Jewish musician whose songs many of us grew up on, is 64. Harder still, is to pick just one favorite song among his many hits. While some would surely choose ‘Uptown Girl’ or ‘My Life’, others might select, ‘Just the Way You Are’ or one of his later hits like, ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’ or perhaps his signature ballad, ‘Piano Man’.
But there is one song that always evokes images for me right from the opening stanza:
Some folks like to get away
Take a holiday
from the neighborhood
Hop a flight to Miami Beach
Or to Hollywood
But I'm taking a Greyhound
On the Hudson River Line
I'm in a New York state of mind
In that song, ‘New York State of Mind’, Joel manages to convey longing for the Big Apple with just a few cultural references: The New York Times, The Daily News, Riverside, etc. Even if you don’t live in New York you can relate to the sentiment expressed just by listening to the song.
Today is Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, a holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City (including the Western Wall) during the Six Day War in 1967. The holiday marks the time from which Jews could once again pray at the Western Wall. Festive prayers and marches through the Old City culminating at the Kotel are integral parts of the festivities of this special day.
But it occurs to me that there is a prerequisite to celebrating Jerusalem Day. Before one can truly celebrate Jerusalem Day, one has to think about what ‘Jerusalem’ really means. It’s odd, but although I may mention the word ‘Jerusalem’ a dozen times in my daily prayers or grace after meals, I rarely take the time to really think about what I am saying.
I used to think that Jerusalemites have it easier, surely they must always be thinking about Jerusalem. But is complaining about the inner-city traffic really what Jerusalem is all about? When residents of Jerusalem drink a coffee at Mamilla or bite into a pizza on Ben-Yudah Street does anyone stop to ponder how their ancestors could only dream of such a thing?
For many, just hearing Naomi Shemer’s ballad, ‘Jerusalem of Gold’ elicits special feelings for Jerusalem. For others, it may happen while gazing at the city from the Haas Promenade in Talpiot or walking down the steps in the Old City and arriving at the Western Wall.
At every Jewish wedding, just before the groom stomps on the glass, the following verses from Psalms (reminding us in times of gladness that the Temple in Jerusalem has yet to be rebuilt) are said: "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you... if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy." (137, 5-7)
Interestingly, the original Hebrew phrase, translated as ‘above my highest joy’, is ‘al-rosh simchati’, literally ‘at the head of my joy’.
No matter what the occasion, we must have Jerusalem in our heads; we must be in a ‘Jerusalem State of Mind’, not just on Jerusalem Day - but every day.