Recognizing Jerusalem the Hanukkah gift the Jewish people deserve

Recognizing Jerusalem the Hanukkah gift the Jewish people deserve
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On the wall of my youngest son’s room hangs a century-old blurred photograph of an old man with a white beard and crushed hat. The photograph seems oddly placed next to the more youthful posters on the wall, and yet my son keeps it there because, as a family, we find that man particularly inspiring.

He is my great-grandfather Hajji Chaim, and more than 100 years ago, family tradition has it, he traveled over 2,000 kilometers on foot from Isfahan, Iran, all the way to Jerusalem. He did so just to lay his eyes upon the holy city and pray at the Western Wall, the last visible figment of our lost temple. He was renowned in the Iranian Jewish community for having made the great pilgrimage, and acquired the title Hajji for completing the Jewish hajj. 


This story of my ancestor indicates both what Jerusalem means to the Jewish people and why we should be preparing to celebrate today. After all, if we are to believe the reports that now bound across the global media, President Trump will officially recognize the holy city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 


This rousing announcement couldn’t have come at a better time. In just over a week, Jews across the world will celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah.

Known as the festival of lights, the holiday commemorates the recapture of Jerusalem and the dedication of the Jewish Temple nearly 2,200 years ago. In addition to lighting the menorah and turning our dreidels, it’s become something of a tradition in Jewish circles to give gifts to friends and family on Hanukkah. This year, the Jewish community might get a precious gift of its own, courtesy of President Trump: the long-awaited recognition of Jerusalem as the sacred capital of our hallowed national home. 

To be sure, American recognition has no impact on the paramount status of Jerusalem in Judaism. For millennia prior to the founding of the United States, Jerusalem has been the beating heart of the Jewish people — our singular, eternal capital. Our forefather Isaac — the first man, according to Jewish tradition, to be born a Jew — was bound for sacrifice upon its central mountain, Mount Moriah, where the temple would stand. Our identity would be inspired by the Jewish dynasties that ruled from its palaces, and our traditions instilled by the great rabbis who taught in its streets. Time and again, Jews would be forced from Jerusalem’s holy center: by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, the Seleucid greeks in 174 BCE, the Romans in in 70 and 131 AD, the Byzantines in 628, the Crusaders in 1099, and the Jordanians in 1949. And yet, quite like my own great grandfather, we always found our way back. 

And yet it’s critical that the United States finally provide the Jewish community and the state of Israel full recognition of the city that has been our historical heart and center. 

For Israel, America’s foremost ally in the Middle East, it would mean giving a friend and fellow democracy the dignity it deserves in determining its own capital city. Of the 190 nations with which the United States has diplomatic relations, Israel is the only one whose capital lacks full recognition. Congress has already come around, stating in the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 that "Jerusalem should be recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.” The executive branch, however, has refused to accommodate this simple fact, for fear of exacerbating an already tense Middle East.

With the region tearing itself apart on matters completely unrelated to Israel, and with a genocide occurring just a few hours’ drive from Jerusalem in Syria, it’s about time American presidents refocused their sights. The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, is seems, isn’t the dreaded wrench in the gears that we fear it to be. 

For American Jews, too, it would mean the validation of the tradition and heritage that we hold so close to our hearts. Jews across the United States still mourn the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem every year on the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av. By the millions, we still culminate our Passover night routine, known as the Seder, by singing the one-line song that’s become something of a national motto: “Next year in Jerusalem.” For the orthodox, we all still pray three times daily for G-d to return us to his city, as he promised us himself in the bible we still read. For us, Jerusalem transcends politics, and is infused into our religious and cultural DNA. 

As a state that has always been an ideological ally and as people that have been loyal patriots to the United States, the recognition of our eternal capital is the Hanukkah gift we deserve. 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, "America's Rabbi," whom The Washington Post and Newsweek call “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books, including his most recent, “The Israel Warrior.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley