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Tags - religious freedom
King Solomon dedicated the Holy Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem with a prayer and a precedent that has been followed by Israeli leadership since they reunited Jerusalem in 1967 and took responsibility for the Holy places - the foreigner is welcomed.
"When a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a far country for your name's sake...when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name." (I Kings 8:41-4)
It doesn't matter if it is the media, history teachers, tour guides, religious leaders or the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, they all like to refer to the fact that Jerusalem contains holy sites for the three great monotheistic religions of the world. Just not all of those mentioned above are so quick to add that there has only been freedom of worship for every religious group when Jerusalem has been in the hands of the Jews. It isn't an opinion it is an historical fact and it means a great deal for this foreigner.
Jerusalem Day is important and meaningful for me as a Christian. Despite the atrocious history of Crusader brutality in this city, when Israel unified it in 1967 they didn't decide to even the scorecard. No, they unfastened the old latches and broke open the ancient doors to welcome everyone. It was like the Old City finally took in a gasp of fresh air after being locked up for thousands of years.
In Jerusalem, under the rule of the Israeli government, I have complete freedom to go to church, to visit the Garden Tomb, to follow the Via Dolorosa or even walk up to the Western Wall and place my own prayer note in the cracks with the peculiar and comforting knowledge that thousands of years ago King Solomon actually prayed that God would answer my prayer, the prayer of the foreigner.
I don't think most people realize the extravagant cultural and religious freedom that exists in Jerusalem. Watching the news you might think that there is a west side of Jerusalem filled with Jews and and east side filled with Arabs and a clean line of separation down the center. There doesn't seem to be a concept of the stunning, vibrant, interwovern diversity that greets me every time I amble through the well-worn cobblestone streets of this city.
I attended Hebrew classes at one ulpan where Muslim Arabs made up the majority of my class. I sat by Abba Moshe, a Greek orthodox priest, behind me were Catholic priests-in-training from Italy and Brazil, and to my left sat two very quiet sisters from a local order of nuns. Thrown in between were a few of us clad in normal street clothes. I often joke that Jerusalem is the ancient version of Manhattan.
That is just a snap shot of Jerusalem today, and this foreigner hopes it doesn't change. It is one city in the Middle East where Muslim, Christian, Jew - also many other diverse faiths - can mingle in the streets freely and openly as they trot off to their individual places of worship. And this openness remained even in the face of the horrific terrorist acts during the Intifada years. Israelis have paid a great price for the freedom of the foreigner.
For reasons I do not understand, the human rights of cultural and religious freedom that took root and began flourishing in 1967 are the subject of little conversation when the eyes of the world focus on Jerusalem. In fact, it seems the reverse is happening.
Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat recently met with U.S. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Rep. Peter Roskan (R-Ill). He responded to the Obama administrations request to freeze construction in East Jerusalem. He came to America, the bastion of freedom, to express his "shock" and "surprise" at what he referenced as Obama's request for discriminatory practices in Jerusalem's city zoning.
"I think in Washington or anywhere in the states its illegal, it's anti constitutional, to ask who's the owner, if he's Jewish or Muslim," Barkat stated. "You're not allowed to discriminate, by race, by color, or by religion. And I'm surprised at the demand and the request to hint to us that we must discriminate...It's against the law."
Does the the US Administration really want to impose segregation? If Jerusalem is divided and east Jerusalem zoned to exlude Jews, would it not be important to have such a zoning law in west Jerusalem to exclude Arabs from building, buying and renting? Why unequal measures for the east and west parts of the city? Is this really 2010? A zone of Arabs and a zone of Jews? It seems common sense has been restricted to the Twilight Zone.
It is especially flabbergasting in the light of what I see today in Jerusalem. The city is such an expression of diversity that is should be a model city for the region. Sure there is room for improvement but maybe we should look to Mecca where the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has barred all non-Muslims from even entering the city if we want to start improving the Middle East.
In any case, celebrating the reunification of the ancient city of Jerusalem has gotten a bit more audacious. Should we really commemorate an event that most world-powers, including some Jewish, would like to reverse?
U.S. President Obama has not helped the cause by entering into the Middle East peace process intent on making the status of Jerusalem a starter at the Mid-East Convivium. So far Israelis seated at the negotiating table have recoiled at the rare-cooked, heavy laden hors d'oeuvres set by the US Administration that must leave them wondering what kind of entrée is to follow. The Palestinians, well they haven't yet made it to the table. But that hasn't stopped Obama from dishing out heaping portions to the Israelis. What was once non-negotiable, Jerusalem, lies poised on the chopping block and it has instigated a bit of a family rumpus in the world-wide Jewish community, especially in the US.
One Jewish leftist organization issued an ad pleading with Obama to "save us from ourselves". And the iconic Eli Wiesel, who stands as the keeper of Holocaust memory, challenged Obama's approach to Jerusalem in an ad so strong it earned him a lunch invitation at the White House. I love the healthy arena of social engagement that democratic republics facilitate and even require. But I think it will take a little more then Obama's beer diplomacy to reduce the growing tension over Jerusalem.
I hope Jerusalem remains united, but Israel is a democracy, and her people will have to decide the future of their capital. They are the ones paying the price and living the reality. However, I think all of us, especially those in places of influence, should ask ourselves a simple question. If Jerusalem, as it exists today, is a barrier to peace in the Middle East then what kind of peace are we asking Israel to seek?
Kasey Barr is a frequent blogger for http://www.Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.
There is much being said about Jerusalem in the news these days. It is Israel's capitol city, though most of the world does not recognize it as so. I lived in the city for a few years and though I now live in Ra'anana (a city north of Tel Aviv), I still make it to Jerusalem about once a week. It is a weighty city with a beautiful yet violent history. I like to walk the ancient streets and try to imagine the many events that occurred there. It takes a bit of imagination because the reality today is quite different.
In Jerusalem there is tension between the vast varieties of people, yet it is a product of the openness of the city. Only under Jewish control of Jerusalem has there been religious freedom for all people. And it comes at great risk and a high price as Jerusalem has been one of the hot spots for terrorism. There is no other place in the world where I can walk the streets and find myself brushing shoulders with not only multiple sects of Judaism, but also the Eastern Orthodox Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Armenians, even the Mormons have their spot here. The list could go on and on. Sometimes I feel like I am walking around the ancient version of Manhattan! Walking through the old stone streets of Jerusalem are monks, Imams, and my personal favorite, the evangelical tour groups who are occasionally found singing hymns.
Within the ancient walls of Jerusalem's Old City lie four ancient and distinctive cultures. The Old City is divided into four quarters--The Jewish Quarter, Muslim, Quarter, Armenian Quarter and Christian Quarter.
Constant streams of pilgrims visit the most holy site to the Jewish nation, the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. Five times daily, one can hear the Muslim call to prayer being sounded from the El Aksa mosque located right above the Western Wall. Armenians fulfill their daily ritual prayers in the Church of the Holy Archangels--a structure dating back to the medieval period. And throughout the year, Christians retrace the steps of Jesus, visiting the temple ruins, Gethsemane, The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Garden Tomb.
The diversity of the ancient city of Jerusalem rarely, if ever, makes headline news, but it should. While Israel's so called "intolerance" toward its Arab citizens dominates the mainstream media focus, individuals of every race and creed are granted cultural and religious freedom throughout Israel and most visibly in Jerusalem -- the most holy city of the Jewish faith. This can hardly be said of any other country in the region and certainly not Saudi Arabia which will not even permit a Jewish person entrance into their country or any non-Muslim/ infidel in Mecca.
Jerusalem is a shining example of religious and cultural freedom in an area of the world where religious persecution is practiced regularly and quite brutally. Jerusalem has seen much bloodshed in the past from religious conquests to dominate the region and the minds of her citizens. Thankfully today, there is freedom of conscience for all peoples. I am thankful to Israel and the Jewish people that I, as a Christian, can come here and celebrate the life of Jesus and worship freely without fear of intimidation or persecution.
Living life in the Holy Land