Yes, I have been away. No, I am not in Israel. I am in New York, which even Jesse Jackson must admit is not quite the same thing.
Someone reminded me recently that shortly after my 20th birthday, in my first job out of college as editor of a magazine (“The Forum,” now defunct) for Jewish students, I wrote a cover story entitled “Should Jews Leave New York?” The article leaned yes, and I demonstrated my sincerity by moving to Chicago before I turned twenty-one. I argued that cities are symbols, embodying estates realer than geography, and the things for which New York stood were not things a Jew should stand for. That was 1978, long before gay marriage ever got engaged.
This musing brings me, after all, to Jerusalem. Now there is a city that stands for something, or used to. The Talmud famously says: “If someone tells you that Jerusalem is built up and Rome is in ruins, you can believe him. If someone tells you that Rome is built up and Jerusalem is in ruins, you can believe him. If someone tells you that Jerusalem and Rome are both built up, do not believe him.” In this reading, Rome represents decadence and Jerusalem represents virtue and not only shall the twain never meet, they cannot thrive simultaneously.
The Supreme Court is about to hear arguments in a case brought by parents who demand that the State Department list their son’s place of birth as Jerusalem, Israel. Instead the policy poltroons in Foggy Bottom write Jerusalem without appending a country. I consider the suit a class action, and the State Department’s as a classless action. Still, it is not technically being brought by a class; if it were, I would sign up for the course, being the father of a daughter (1982), a son (1991), and a daughter (1993) who share that designation on their passports.
Apparently, the claims of other nations, religions, and stone quarries are too powerful to allow the United States to recognize that Jerusalem is the registered trademark of a territory in the State of Israel. My other children have the United States as their places of birth, despite emerging in Illinois and Ohio (Native American territories), New York (Dutch), and Florida (Spanish). The right of the Jewish state over Jerusalem — including the parts granted by the United Nations in 1948 — is deemed too tenuous for our officious officialdom.
What will the highest court determine? One thing is fairly predictable: the three Jews — Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan — will cower pitifully before the imaginary court of world opinion like the Jewish serfs of yesteryear. All this talk of the liberation of the modern Jew will echo hollowly against the cliffs those lemmings will jump off. Quoth those craven “Nevermore”? I think not, but I will be thrilled if proven wrong.
The Obama administration has obliged its critics with its usual witches’ brew of malice and incompetence. They entered pleadings in the case which argued that such a requirement would place an undue burden on the ability of the executive branch to effectuate policy — despite using the name of Taiwan over Chinese objections without blowing diplomacy to smithereens.
This prompted various of the Court’s friends to file briefs noting that the White House’s website had captioned a number of photos of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton as being snapped in Jerusalem, Israel. The boxers in the White House found this to be captious and they hit back quickly by scrubbing the captions. Now the country housing Jerusalem is as forgotten by the leaders of this country as is its right wing.
I agree with the notion that Jerusalem is an international city, as the Bible itself declares: “For My House shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7) It is international in the sense that virtue is a global value. But it is international in a thematic sense only, or in a sense of being the spiritual property of all mankind. None of those aspirations can be achieved or enhanced by theft of its physical ownership.
The Jewish tradition teaches that the place named Salem when Abraham first came to the land of Canaan was later renamed Jerusalem. Salem comes from the root Shalom, meaning peace, and the Jeru- comes from Yirah, meaning both “vision” and “awe.” The merged appellation teaches that awe of the exalted must precede peace, and that the vision of peace will eventually bring about its reality. Peace will not emerge through the pettifoggery of petty Foggy Bottomers, nor through the whitewashing of the White House spin cycle.
My three children whose status is being adjudicated are proud Americans with passports that take them on any road in the world but the one that leads to the simple truth. They were privileged to first see daylight in a holy place, so I imagine they will join the crier of the Supreme Court in this prayer for enlightenment: “God save the United States and this honorable court.”