Obama, Jerusalem Day is no Joke
Obama, Jerusalem Day is no Joke

Some people rank the importance of the day's events by which stories top the newscasts. For me, I look to see what the American late-night talk-show hosts are joking about. While stories about Israel often hit the front page of US papers, they rarely break into David Letterman's or Conan O'Brien's opening monologues.

The exception to the rule occurred last week in the wake of US President Barack Obama's speech on the Middle East which was followed up by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's address to both houses of Congress.

The Tonight Show's Jay Leno, and his Jewish joke-writers, pulled no punches attacking the President:

"President Obama suggested that Israel should go back to the pre-1967 borders. Native Americans said, "Why stop there? Let's go back to the pre-1492 borders.""

Leno followed up that joke with another jab at Obama later in the week:

"Obama was also in England, where the Queen suggested that we go back to the pre-1776 borders."

But the truth is that 1967 lines are no laughing matter. It's not only about not being able to 'go back' in history, just like one cannot go back to 1492 or 1776. The issue at hand, which Netanyahu strongly stressed in Washington, is security. Netanyahu clearly stated that Israel, "cannot return to indefensible 1967 lines".

All the talk about the 1967 lines could not be timelier. This Tuesday night and Wednesday is Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). Jerusalem Day commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City (including the Western Wall) during the Six Day War in June 1967. On May 12, 1968, the government proclaimed a new holiday - Jerusalem Day - to be celebrated on the 28th of Iyar, the Hebrew date on which the divided city of Jerusalem became one.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared Jerusalem Day a minor religious holiday to thank God for the six-day victory and for answering the 2,000-year-old prayer of "Next Year in Jerusalem". Religious Zionists gather for special holiday prayers on this day, and some hold special festive meals and wear holiday clothing.

On March 23, 1998, the Knesset passed the Jerusalem Day Law, formally making the day a national holiday.

But the fact is, Jerusalem Day need not be a holiday just for Jews. Since it affects people of all faiths who now have the ability to worship freely in Jerusalem, people of all faiths should embrace it. As Netanyahu stated in his speech at Congress last week,"And as for Jerusalem, only a democratic Israel has protected the freedom of worshipfor all faiths in the city. Throughout the millennial history of the Jewish capital, the only time that Jews, Christians, and Moslems could worshipfreely, could have unfettered access to their holy sites has been during Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem. Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.”

I used to get annoyed because as wonderful as Jerusalem Day is, 'Jerusalem Day' has become just that - a day for Jerusalem. Unfortunately, outside the capital this important day goes by virtually unnoticed.

Jerusalem will have its parades, its 1 a.m. march to the Kotel from the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva and the afternoon flag march of youth organizations in the streets of the Old City with festive dancing at the Kotel, its Jerusalem flag with the lion on it flapping in the wind. It's neither Jerusalem nor her residents that I am worried about.

Travel outside the capital and you will hardly see any signs of this holiday at all. Sure, many communities across Israel and the Diaspora hold festive prayer services or concerts for Jerusalem Day. Noami Shemer's classic ballad "Jerusalem of Gold" is sure to be sung countless times across the nation this week. But ask the average non-Jerusalemite Israeli on the street what's special about this Wednesday and you will likely get a blank stare.

Will the Israeli press cover Jerusalem Day at all this year, or will they regulate it to their back pages and end of their newscasts, along with the weather reports? Will there be television programs about Jerusalem on Tuesday night or will they take a backseat to whatever passes as "prime time TV" these days (maybe the Israeli version of Survivor, filmed on the other side of the globe)?

Has Jerusalem Day become a sad joke? Overall, there seems to be little awareness of Jerusalem Day outside the capital. The Ministry of Education recently announced that 50% of Israeli students in public schools had never visited Jerusalem at all.

So what can be done to raise Jerusalem awareness? Well, efforts are now being made to organize trips to Jerusalem (which will include visits to important sites like the Kotel, Yad Vashem, Ammunition Hill, the Knesset, etc.) for all Israeli schools. This is certainly a step in the right direction.

But perhaps we owe a 'debt of gratitude' to President Obama for mentioning the 1967 lines. Had he not said what he said, it is doubtful that Prime Minister Netanyahu would have so strongly defended his own position that returning to the 1967 was not an option. In an unexpected way, Obama and Netanyahu brought about some major awareness about 1967, which is what Jerusalem Day is all about.

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)

I believe the key to those verses is in the last phrase - "above my highest joy." We need to emphasize that "Jerusalem is number one."

Of course we won't forget about Jerusalem. But let's also remember that Jerusalem Day is not a joke, it's important. Jerusalem is no laughing matter.

And to all those who still don't know that it's Jerusalem Day, well then, the joke's on you.