After arriving in Jerusalem, I was incredibly surprised by the international character of the city. The downtown triangle neighborhood could have come straight from Europe, if not for the white limestone. These limestone blocks compose every building, crumbling shacks and high-rises alike. Apparently the use of this stone is mandated by the municipal authorities; a rather wise decision, because all edifices, no matter what there age or location, seem linked by a common commitment to preserving tradition.
The people in Jerusalem are much more varied than the buildings in which they reside, and much more colorful. Mixed about on every street are people who appear to belong to different continents and centuries than their fellow pedestrians. I see Yemenite women with large wraps covering their hair, children in tow. Elderly Ashkenazi couples walk together, looking impossibly comfortable under the dense fabrics of the Alte Heim. There are also many secular Jews here, who look indistinguishable from most Americans, although they smoke more and walk less hurriedly.
But Jews are only one component of Jerusalem, one part of its history. The city is also home to thousands of Muslims, who mix freely with Jews of all stripes on the busy streets. Women with the hijab, and many without, congregate together as they shop. Arab men, though mostly modern in dress, also have the fondness for motor scooters and cigarettes that to me marks them as people from overseas. But there are plenty of Americans here too: Jews who made aaliyah, Catholic priests and nuns. In fact, there are Christian pilgrims here from all over the world, converting in droves upon a single deeply-loved city. Jerusalem, perhaps more than any city in history, has been sought after, conquered, longed for, and liberated as no other city could have been. It belongs to the children of Abraham, by blood and by creed. Jews, Muslims, Christians and more all feel drawn to Yerushalayim, and that is why access to the city is so vehemently fought for, and so necessary. Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, belongs to Israel, and it is only the State of Israel that in the city’s millennia has assured safety and religious freedom to all its inhabitants.
Jerusalem belongs to Israel, in a political sense, but that in no way lessens the attachment of others to the Holy City. The Russian refuseniks, the Ethiopians, the Arab residents, the Christian worshipers, all have a place in this city. Jerusalem now belongs to all who want to experience its beauty and power. Franciscans and Chasidim, Imams and Zionists, all need Yerushalayim. As we work toward lasting peace in this city and in Eretz Israel, Jerusalem represents a vision of future coexistence worth striving toward.