Last month, I was invited to explore the textual roots of Jerusalem with young leaders from across the spectrum of Jewish youth movements at a UJIA pre-Israel tour training seminar.
The voices in the room were incredibly diverse: from having proudly joined Yom Yerushalayim marches (which assert Israeli sovereignty through the Arab Quarter of the Old City), to really struggling with the political and social challenges in the city. But everyone approached the topic with openness, honesty and respect.
Jerusalem may have been the unified capital of Israel for only a few decades, but it has sat at the heart of many of our conversations and prayers for thousands of years.
In the Prophets and Lamentations, the name and idea of Jerusalem is so central that it often represents the whole of the land.
When a vicar friend asked me how the Jewish community felt about President Trump moving the US embassy to Jerusalem last year,
I laughed at the idea the community could agree about our feelings on anything.
Then I thought about it and realised Jerusalem is felt by a majority to be totally central.
Perhaps we are surprised others don’t consider it Israel’s capital. But that doesn’t mean moving an embassy there will do any good, and when the balance of ‘peace’ is so delicate, it can potentially provoke problems.
When the spiritual and political clash, it becomes even more difficult to navigate.
Isaiah 56:7 describes the Temple in Jerusalem as a place of prayer for all the nations, and you only have to walk the streets of the Old City to absorb the many layers of diverse prayer and custom that have added their whispers to the stones of Jerusalem.
Yet Jerusalem is one of the big-gest stumbling blocks to peace, the piece of the puzzle always left till last. In many ways, this is a heart-breaking truth for a city that means so much to so many, and has held the hopes and fears of its inhabitants.
This Yom Yerushalayim, whatever the city means to you politically, perhaps we should reflect on the words of the Psalmist: “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem”, and through our actions, may we create a Jerusalem where all visitors and residents experience the beauty and wholeness of the city, and Jerusalem truly holds all their prayers.
Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers is community educator at the Movement for Reform Judaism