What Jerusalem means to Jews and the nations of the world

by Phil Schneider

Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish people. How did this happen? Did it evolve gradually over the generations? And how long ago was it that this unique city became the heart of the Jewish people? What is perhaps more fascinating than anything about Jerusalem is that there is more unity and agreement than anything in the Jewish people about the centrality of Jerusalem.

Unity and Disunity in Jerusalem in 1948

The Jewish people began their return to the Land of Israel en masse in the 19th century. There were always scattered individuals and sometimes entire families that returned to the Land of Israel from the exile over the generations. However, an organized movement to return to the Land of Israel only began with students of the Hassidic Rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov and the students of the Lithuanian Rabbi, The Gaon from Vilna. But even those movements were in the tens and hundreds of individuals. Only in the 1880’s did a group of many hundreds of Jews come from Eastern Poland and Russia in what would become knows as the First Aliyah. The empty Land of Israel went from a group of a few thousand to tens of thousands by the turn of the 20th century. But the first massive wave came in the early 21st century. Tens of thousands of Jews from Russia and Eastern Poland came in a wave due to pogroms against Jews and strong Zionist feelings of returning to the Promised Land.

Many of the new settlers in the Land of Israel were driven by strong emotions that had cultivated over the generations into an unbreakable bond between the Jewish people and Jerusalem. But in addition, many of them adopted strong socialist feelings that overcame their Jewish customs. Despite this, the strong ties to Jerusalem never faded.

By the time the State of Israel was formed in 1948, Israel was split up into many fractious groups. But the one thing that unified them was Jerusalem. Even in the disunity that displayed itself with three separate Jewish militias that fought to defend and establish the Jewish State, their was a clear consensus that Jerusalem was the heart that needs to be freed at nearly all costs. David Ben-Gurion, the new Prime Minister of Israel, devoted enormous resources in people, food, and weapons – all very scarce at the time – to hold onto the city of Jerusalem.

There are things that are beyond logic. The soul is one of those things. The deep location that the Jewish people have with the city of Jerusalem is so deep in the soul – and has been for more than 3,000 years. All explanations only touch the surface. The fact of the matter is that the bond is simply unbreakable. Jerusalem is embedded so deeply in the hearts of the Jewish nation that there is simply nothing to talk about in terms of negotiations. Everything begins from the premise that the heart and soul of the Jewish people is non-negotiable.

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