Old New Land
“Twenty years before, Kingscourt and Friedrich, had entered Jerusalem by night and from the west. Now they came by day, approaching from the east. Then she had been a gloomy, dilapidated city; now she was risen in splendor, youthful, alert, risen from death to life.”
-Theodor Herzl, Altenueland
I thought of this passage often during a three week sojourn in Israel as a participant in the Tomorrow Conference sponsored by President Peres as well as the meetings of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency for Israel as I compared today’s Jerusalem to the one I had known as a student 40 years ago. The changes are remarkable.
When I began my studies at the Hebrew Union College it was a pretty lonely looking building on King David Street. Across the street was the falafel man and around the corner on Mamila was a bakery that made great raisin Challah, a small restaurant and the house where Herzl had stayed when he visited the land. Today Mamila is the newest mall in town with stores that resemble 57th street in New York City. The bakery is long gone and the stones from the Herzl House have been restored on the mall as part of a restaurant. The falafel stand would now be the entrance to a new luxury apartment building. And HUC is now a whole campus that includes Beit Shmuel Hostel, Mercaz Shimshon cultural center and the offices of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, the Israel Religious Action Center and the World Union of Progressive Judaism. None of the Israeli organizations had even started 40 years ago.
In February of 1972 the first pizza place opened in Jerusalem in afood cart parked outside a downtown movie theatre on Thursday andSaturday nights. Nearly every cuisine can now be found in upscalerestaurants across the city and pizza joints are ubiquitous.
My old dorm long ago was torn down in favorof an upscale apartment building down the street from the PresidentsHouse. Ulpan Etzion, where my then fiancé, now wife, attended was ina nearly uninhabited outlying area of the city. Today the Ulpan isnearly closed but the area, Baka, is thriving. My daughter lives just acouple of blocks from the Ulpan on a quiet tree lined section ofDerech Beit Lechem. Down a couple more blocks one can find great takeoutfood, two rival fruit and vegetable businesses( owned by cousins) aswell as upscale women’s dress shops, a gourmet kitchen store and acouple of gift shops.
The highlight of our trip was the birth ofDoron, our first grandchild, the son of our son Uri and daughter in lawSari. We had always hoped to have sabra grandchildren. 40 years agoin Jerusalem it was a dream. Now it is a reality. Doron joins nineother Israelis in our family in his generation so far.
In the closing passages of Israel: Echo of Eternity, Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us that Israel is our rendezvous with history.
“Israel is a personal challenge, a personalreligious issue. It is a call to everyone one of us as an individual, acall that one cannot answer vicariously….There are no easy roads,there is no simple solution. “(Page 225)
As you think about Israel today, even withall the political events that are swirling about it, remember that sheis a stronger, more secure, more vibrant, more fascinating country andsociety than 20 or 40 years ago. There are many tasks ahead to buildan ever more inclusive, democratic Jewish Israel. But with the promisethat comes with each new sabra’s birth, each time we visit, each timewe speak positively about Israel with our friends and neighbors, we arecontinuing Herzl’s vision of our old new land.
Rabbi Daniel R. Allen,Executive Director of ARZA, has served as the CEO of the AmericanFriends of Magen David Adom and the United Israel Appeal. Allen isconsidered a leading expert on Israel and American Jewish Philanthropy.