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Why Secular Jews Should Celebrate Yom Yerushalayim

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Unlike many liberal American or secular Jews, I will be proudly celebrating Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) this year.
 
Let me explain why.
 
Not only is Jerusalem the birthplace of Judaism and the Bible, but it is also the birthplace of a crucial step in the history of human progress.
 
It was in Jerusalem that a radical new way of viewing the world arose from the chaos of antiquity, ushering in the Axial Age (approximately the 8th to the 3rd century BCE) and creating the foundation of a moral system that is still held as central today. It was in Jerusalem where the Jewish prophets wrote that all humans are created in the image of God and that we should treat our neighbors like ourselves.
 
Arguing against a polytheistic worldview replete with existential hierarchies and immoralities, these prophets constantly harangued the people to act in an upstanding moral way towards everyone, under the belief that real divine service is the helping of humans who are less fortunate than ourselves. When I walk through the streets of Jerusalem, I am reminded of these crucial moments at the dawn of history.
 
I furthermore think about my ancient ancestors who walked these streets thousands of years ago, erecting holy sites that would later become focal points for all of the Abrahamic religions. I am able to visit sites that have inspired, for better or worse, millions upon millions of people throughout history.
 
I recall 2,000 years of Jewish exilic literature, where a deep longing for Jerusalem permeates every hymn, poem and prophetic writing alike. As I walk past the lively shops and markets, I am reminded of Jeremiah’s ancient hope that, “Yet again there shall be heard in the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness.” (Jeremiah 33:11). Our people have simply been waiting for this day for too long for us not to celebrate.
 
Critics of this day call it xenophobic or anti-Arab. They cite instances where celebrations, specifically the march in Jerusalem, often result in shouting matches or violent confrontations between the Arab and Jewish residents. In this light, many rail against this holiday, refusing to celebrate, claiming that it is a right-wing, anti-peace, political statement.
 
But that is not how I will be celebrating.
 
I can be open-minded enough to simultaneously appreciate and celebrate our return to Jerusalem while recognizing and attempting to minimize the potentially offensive nature of the holiday. I understand that Jews are not the only people who view Jerusalem as holy, important, and even as their home. We need to be extremely cognizant of this fact. And I fully believe that Jerusalem should be split and be viewed as a dual capital in a potential two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
However, the historical importance of Jerusalem to the Jewish people is simply too great to ignore. Which is why I, a liberal, American, skeptical Jew, will be proudly celebrating Jerusalem Day this year.
 
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