Jerusalem Roots Sustain Jewish Life

I never created a professional work about Jerusalem. I didn’t write about Jerusalem in the days I worked as a journalist; nor did I, as a producer, make any films about the city. Nevertheless, Jerusalem is an integral part of all of my creations. Such is the power of Jerusalem that it gives every Jew an energizing flow of Jewish spirituality that inspires all his creative works, consciously and subconsciously.

Jerusalem, it seems to me, symbolizes three basic elements in our collective consciousness: 1. identification with the Jewish tradition, 2. yearning for the Land of Israel and 3. a desire for a divinely inspired, just society.

In recent generations, Jews have been able to give concrete expression to their loyalty to Jerusalem. Zionism deals with the renewal of the bond between the people of Israel and their land and language. But, as far back as close to a century ago, the Arab residents of the region initiated savage terror attacks against Jews wishing to settle in the Land of Israel.

Contrary to often-repeated claims, terror did not begin after the Six-Day War. Even the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization), which later became the Palestinian Authority, was established three years earlier, in 1964, when there were no so-called "occupied" territories to liberate.

It was with great emotional difficulty that I decided prior to the release of my film, "One Day in September," to include at its end an authentic interview with the last surviving terrorist of the terror team in Munich, whom we located in a hiding place in Africa.

His words, however, proved tragically correct. He stated: "I do not regret our attack at the Olympic Games. We succeeded brilliantly in bringing the political aims of the Palestinians to the awareness of untold millions all over the world."

Terror, which sabotages our lives in every possible way, unfortunately is succeeding in winning the sympathy of public opinion in its war against Israel. The film, "One Day in September," warns against the destruction of the Zionist dream as a result of physical terror. But it doesn’t mention a terror that is possibly even worse: ideological terror.

Recent years have witnessed an alarming explosion of sophisticated Arab propaganda that has been delegitimizing the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. This attitude can be summarized by the phrase in a Palestinian schoolbook for the sixth grade which says explicitly: "The argument that Jews have historic rights in Palestine is the greatest lie in human history."

According to a study by Dr. Yitzhak Reiter, conducted for the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, even the history of Jerusalem has gradually been rewritten. The claim that Jews have no real connection to Jerusalem and its holy sites has been adopted by the Palestinian leadership and has become entrenched in Arab and Muslim communities.

At the heart of this new version is the argument that Arabs ruled Jerusalem thousands of years before the Children of Israel. The most amazing element of the new history is the claim that the First and Second Temples are lies, fabricated by the Jews. This view was even adopted by the Web site of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, which declared that there has never been any archaeological evidence of Jewish life in the Jerusalem of ancient times.

No wonder, then, that the Palestinians seize every opportunity to destroy in the most uncivilized way all the precious archaeological findings beneath the surface of the Temple Mount. What an irony: No other people except the Jews has ever made Jerusalem its capital, despite its conquest by many imperial powers. But now clear facts are denied and history is rewritten.

By denying the historic-religious bond between the Jewish people and its land, the Arabs portray the Jewish settlement enterprise in the entire State of Israel as theft of their lands. This includes even those lands on which Jews have lived for generations and those acquired at great cost and sacrifice.

Just as the blood libels encouraged the murder of Jews, the contemporary libel that speaks about the theft of the Holy Land by the Zionists and Israel legitimizes acts of terror against the Jews."

However, the accusation of "theft" in the Arab textbooks and communications media — or as the Palestinians call it, "The rape of Palestine" — is applied to the entire State of Israel, with no distinction made between Shechem and Tel Aviv, between Jericho and Haifa.

The influence of this historic revisionism, together with the vilification of Israel and Jews, on Arab youth — particularly Palestinian youth — must be of major concern to us. The media, the textbooks and the sermons in the mosques are fraught with perverse libels and lies that distort both the historic past and the present. They prevent any possibility of coexistence and peace in the foreseeable future and poison the minds of future generations.

Whoever wants to defend Zion and whoever holds Jerusalem dear must take an active role in the struggle against this ideological terror. He must utterly repudiate the false and libelous accusations and tell the true facts about both historical and contemporary events.

Movies can play a tremendous role — a recent pseudo-historical film has demonstrated just how strong their negative influence can be — but each person in his or her own way and according to the means at his disposal, must expose these horrendous lies and slanders against the Jewish people.

The deep and abiding connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem is both a historic and an existential fact. Just as dreams of Jerusalem sustained the Jewish people throughout the generations in their darkest moments, today, too, Jerusalem nourishes the Jewish people wherever they may be.

If Jerusalem does not belong to us, our entire connection with this land is in question.

Every person needs both roots and wings. Only he who is nourished by the firm ground of his past can give creative expression to his personal dreams. Nations, too, can only soar to new horizons if they are established on sound foundations.

The roots that have bound us to this land for thousands of years are strong and deep. They allow us to survive the strongest tempests and to persist in our unique way of life. Thanks to these roots, the Jewish people was able, even after the horrors of the Holocaust, to renew itself and flourish in all paths of life.

The winds of time cannot undermine us so long as stability of the foundations of our existence, our Jewish and Zionist roots, remain firm. Therefore, we must protect, with vigor and devotion the deep roots of our tradition in Zion and Jerusalem. We all must be defenders of Jerusalem. We all are Guardians of Zion.

This is an excerpt of the annual Distinguished Rennert Lecture that Arthur Cohn delivered in Jerusalem May 27, upon receiving the Guardian of Zion Award from the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar Ilan University. Cohn is the Academy Award-winning producer of numerous films, including "The Garden of Finzi-Continis" and "One Day in September."

New Stamp on Service

Late last summer at Adat Ari El, when work was going on in earnest to craft the new One Shabbat Morning service, Rabbi Moshe Rothblum recalled feeling some resentment at having to drop his High Holiday preparations to attend a One Shabbat Morning meeting.

“But afterwards, I would be so rejuvenated and energized by the whole process of talking about it,” Rothblum said. “It had an impact on everybody.”

That impact has spread throughout the year, as the monthly service at the Valley Village Conservative synagogue draws between 600 and 1,000 people to a worship and study experience that puts an innovative stamp on traditional prayers and tunes.

“The idea was to find a way to build a bridge between traditional chazzanut to more innovative melodies that have been popularized by singers like Craig Taubman and Debbie Friedman, in the hopes that it will make services more accessible for a new generation of shul-goers,” said Lorin Fife, chairman of the board at Adat Ari El.

The service, with some original compositions, was developed through a collaborative effort involving Rothblum, Taubman, Associate Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe Bernhard, Cantor Ira Bigeleisen, lay people and outside experts in synagogue transformation and the cantorate.

The result is a service that begins at 9 a.m. with Torah study, usually by a guest scholar, and after a short coffee break at about 9:45 a.m., with the music beckoning people to join. The hall where the service takes place is set up with a the bimah in the center, so that the clergy — one of the rabbis, Taubman and Bigeleisen or another cantor — are closer to congregants.

Taubman leads a full band, and portions of the service are abbreviated. The Torah processional is festive and participatory, and the Torah reading consists of one aliyah — usually a group aliyah. During the musaf service, someone shares aloud a personal spiritual journey.

The service takes about two hours and is followed by a kiddush.

Fife says the service, originally meant to attract young families, has blossomed to appeal to a wide swath of the community, surpassing all expectations. Senior citizens, empty-nesters, teenagers and kids in soccer uniforms all participate in the service, funded with seed money by the Jewish Community Foundation and the Stone Family Foundation of Baltimore.

“The kind of response we’ve gotten from people has been very moving,” Rothblum said. “We have a lot of our members who come to it who said they ordinarily don’t come on Shabbat morning, and this has reconnected them to the Jewish prayer experience. And we have people who are not affiliated with any congregation who have come to join in with all their strength in making it a meaningful experience.”

For traditionalists who prefer the kind of service they have always known and loved, the main sanctuary still holds regular services every week. Bar and bat mitzvah celebrations also take place in the main sanctuary.

But the style of One Shabbat Morning is also having an impact in the sanctuary, where Rothblum and Bigeleisen are working to integrate some of the new melodies. Rothblum says they are also looking into ways to bring the clergy physically closer to the congregants in the main sanctuary.

Word about One Shabbat Morning has spread throughout the country, with synagogues calling Adat Ari El for guidance. A presentation at the Conservative movement’s Cantor’s Assembly this year won rave reviews. Fife says they are also working on putting together a CD with the music, to be distributed nationwide.

Los Angeles rabbis and synagogue leaders will have a chance to see what all the hype is about next week, when the One Shabbat Morning leaders put on a demonstration service for members of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California at the Jewish Federation offices on June 10. (Due to space considerations, this program is not open to the public.)

Rothblum is eager to share what he has learned with colleagues.

“I see this as something that has really strengthened the entire congregation,” he said.

“It shows that we are aware |that people have different needs, and we are not trying

to do everything the same way and have one approach for everybody, because that is not going to work — not today.”

The next One Shabbat Morning service is Saturday, June 10, at Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. Torah study begins at 9 a.m., services begin at 9:45 a.m.

For more information, call

(818) 766-9426.