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Hanukkah & Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

December 22, 2016 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

May the Maccabees’ fire of idealism guide us to create a united Jerusalem recognized by all people as Israel’s capital.

Hopefully this time it will be different.

If only politicians took to heart the real meaning of the Hanukkah miracle we might finally witness a long-delayed promise be fulfilled. After all, how long can a nation remain the only one in the world denied the right to choose its own capital city and how long can a people be deprived a historic right of 3000-year duration?

The year 1996 officially marked the “Tri-millennium of Jerusalem, the city of King David.” To acknowledge this milestone the Congress of the United States passed the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act mandating the moving of the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to its declared capital of Jerusalem. The law was adopted in the Senate by a vote of 93 to 5 and the House of Representatives by 374 to 37. A timetable for its implementation was set: the move of the embassy was take place no later than May 31, 1999.

How long can a nation remain the only one in the world denied the right to choose its own capital city?

And yet we still wait. The city to which those most devoted to it for thousands of years of exile and dispersion have returned, the city for which Jews mourned for millennia when they could no longer make the biblically commanded three times a year pilgrimages to it and today rejoice in its rebuilding, the city which has never ceased to be considered by Jews as the holiest in the world – that remains the only city in the world refused the status of capital given to it by its country.

In spite of the law, successive American presidents have taken a presidential prerogative to sign a waiver excluding them from the requirement to act on the Congressional directive. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama each claimed the time was not right, the moment not appropriate to antagonize the Arab world by a move recognizing the ancient connection between Jerusalem and the Jewish people.

Every one of the American presidents who purposefully ignored the Embassy Relocation Act did so in spite of having made the move of the United States embassy to Jerusalem a significant and uncompromising commitment in their campaigns for the presidency.

It is more than ironic than in the United States there are 18 cities named after Jerusalem and 32 Salems – Salem being the shortened form of Jerusalem – but America still thinks our national security would be threatened by recognizing the original Jerusalem in the land of Israel.

The claim of national security as the reason behind Presidential unwillingness to honor a congressional mandate has its roots in a mistaken approach to Middle East problems which continues to plague our supposed experts. We dare not stir up Arab anger goes the theory – as if the very existence of Israel rather than the recognition of Jerusalem as its capital was not the real issue. Rather than using truth as our template for decision-making, we only fear “the hatred of the Arab street, the response of the Arab mobs.”

The story of Hanukkah is a story of courage, the courage of the few in the face of the many. The Maccabees, Mattathias and his five sons, succeeded in leading the Jewish people to a miraculous victory because they knew that fighting for the sanctity of Jerusalem was a divine mission – a mission they could not ignore nor about which they dare not fear an unsuccessful outcome.

Hanukkah tells us that a spiritual light burns far longer than imaginable or possible by physical laws of nature. The oil which realistically should have burnt less than a day in that story continued to emit its holy glow for eight days until it could be replenished.

That very light, the fire of idealism and of optimism of the Maccabees and the priests who rededicated the temple of old, continues to the present to guide us to the creation of a united Jerusalem finally recognized by all the peoples on earth as the capital, not only of Israel but of all the nations who will someday come to worship in the place biblically designated as the city of peace.

The new President of the United States also firmly promised that at long last he will have the courage to abide by the Congressional ruling with regard to Jerusalem. Let us pray that he will keep his word.

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