Jews with Views – Yom Yerushalayim Edition 5782

What is your favorite place in Jerusalem, and why?

BY RABBI JEFFREY SAKS

Among my favorite places in Jerusalem is the Agnon House, built in Talpiot in 1931, when the neighborhood was still a disconnected suburb of the Holy City. S.Y. Agnon (1888–1970), Hebrew literature’s only Nobel laureate, wrote many of the most important works of our culture in his upstairs study in this house. Surrounded by a vast library of rabbinic and world literature, he distilled it all into the mold of modern storytelling to imaginatively capture Jewish existence in his fiction. A visit to the house today, which is a heritage site, study center, and museum preserving Agnon’s legacy, allows us to encounter the author’s world as it was situated in Jerusalem; the city itself serves as a “main character” in many of his tales. When first built the house looked due north to the Old City, then an unobstructed view available today only from the Sherover Promenade. Having suffered personal loss of property during the 1929 Arab uprising, Agnon declared, “I built a house and planted a garden. In this place from which the enemy tried to rout us, I built my home. I built it facing the Temple Mount, to always keep upon my heart our beloved dwelling which was destroyed and has not yet been rebuilt.”

That Jerusalem-consciousness animated his own autobiographical mind. Standing in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in 1966 he introduced himself with this now famous declaration: “As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But I always regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem.” 

Rabbi Jeffrey Saks is the Director of Research at Agnon House, heads WebYeshiva.org and is editor of Tradition.

BY RUCHAMA ALTER

When guiding tourists to the Old City, I first stop at a site that holds precious memories for me: Mount Zion. Mount Zion is situated on what was the border of Israel in 1948, facing the Jordanian-controlled Old City.

The first time I visited Jerusalem was on a 4th grade class trip. We received permission to ascend the outer steps of the Dormition Church to the rooftop, where our soldiers, standing behind sandbags, faced the Jordanians guarding the Old City walls. Because of the danger of standing unprotected, we lined up and one-by-one bent below the sandbags. We then moved forward cautiously until we faced the Old City. We raised our heads to quickly view Har HaBayit, and then bent down and returned to the staircase.

Our teacher had taught us about the significance of Har HaBayit, but nothing prepared me for this powerful encounter. I looked at the site with longing and felt it was akin to staring at the moon. Both were equally visible and equally inaccessible.

Today, revisiting the rooftop on Mount Zion reminds me never to take the short walk to the Kotel for granted. It renews my gratitude to Hashem for the miracle of 1967 and infuses me with optimism. If even the “moon” can become accessible, then greater redemption and peace are not that far behind.

Ruchama Alter is a tour guide and lecturer in Jerusalem and abroad. She completed her graduate studies in Bible and Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.

BY RABBI YOSEF GINSBERG

After living, learning, and teaching in the Old City for nearly a decade, there are so many places I feel very connected to. Yom Yerushalayim at the Kotel, tashlich at the Shiloach pool, the tefillot of Yom HaAtzmaut at the Churva – the list goes on. But if I have to choose one place that I can always return to and instantly recalibrate my purpose, mission, and roots, it would be the place of learning that helped me become who I am today: Yeshivat Hakotel in the Old City. 

Yeshivat Hakotel is where I sat for countless hours, bridging the many aspects of who I am in order to become whole. It’s where I toiled in Torah, learning both humility and how to think like a Jew. And it is the place whose windows overlook a not-yet-rebuilt Har HaBayit, where every glance is an exercise of yearning for redemption. 

From that same window, beyond Har HaBayit, I can see Har HaZeitim, the burial place of my grandparents, Holocaust survivors who rebuilt their lives from the ashes, and raised a strong and committed Jewish family. And from a different window I can see the ruins and newly rebuilt Tiferet Yisrael Shul of Ruzhin, home to my family’s Chassidic heritage through the Husiatyn line. When sitting there, or even just contemplating that spot, my whole being is put into perspective and nothing is impossible.

Rabbi Yosef Ginsberg was raised in Long Island, studied at Yeshivat Hakotel and served in an urban combat unit in the IDF. He is the co-founder and regional director of NCSY Israel, the premier organization in Israel, dedicated to connect, inspire, and empower teen olim to the Land of Israel by encouraging passionate Judaism through Torah and tradition.

BY RABBANIT HADASSAH THAU

It may sound cliché, but every time I find myself in the Old City, I am truly amazed by the way the old comes together with the new and how we, in this fortunate generation, can actually walk the streets of history that our forefathers and foremothers walked upon. I love the way you can turn a corner, get lost, and then stumble upon an awe inspiring rooftop with a stunning view of Har HaBayit and the Kotel plaza – all while discovering fascinating historical sites along the way.

I also was blessed to plan two of my friends’ engagement parties in the Old City, overlooking the Kotel. It was so meaningful to know that my friends were building their future life together in a place bound to generations of Jewish history. 

In Israel, we are living history, and nowhere is that more clear than in the Old City. Passing history on to the next generations is a lot easier when it comes to life before your very eyes, and nowhere is this more true than in Jerusalem!

Rabbanit Hadassah Thau made Aliyah from West Hempstead as a teenager. She has worked as an event planner, Operations Associate at OurCrowd and as a Chapter Director for NCSY Israel. She and her husband are currently serving as shlichim in Toronto, where Hadassah works as a Project Manager at Mizrachi Canada.

BY RABBI ARYEH LIGHTSTONE

My favorite place in Jerusalem is the United States Embassy on 18 Gershon Agron street. The reasons are manifold, but are best captured in one story. One evening, Ambassador David Friedman hosted a dinner at his home in Jerusalem for a senior ministerial delegation from Bahrain, senior Israeli officials and senior US officials. The evening was so amazing, not because of the conversation, but simply the fact that it took place! The United States has its embassy in Jerusalem, the US Ambassador has his home in Jerusalem, and senior officials from around the world, including Israel’s new friend Bahrain, felt comfortable having dinner together in Jerusalem. 

For too long, Jerusalem has been falsely considered a place of division, chaos and hatred, in reality, Jerusalem has been and will always be the city of peace, vision and leadership. I am deeply grateful for the great privilege of making the Embassy in Jerusalem my home office for two special years. 

Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, formerly Regional Director of New York NCSY, was appointed in April 2017 to serve as advisor to U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. A businessman at heart but a klal person in reality, Rabbi Lightstone infuses his entrepreneurial spirit into all of his programs. Rabbi Lightstone developed the first mainstream Jewish college credit program for unaffiliated high school students from across North America.

© 2022 World Mizrachi

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