On the wall of our religious school hallway you may have noticed a new picture. It is a map of the Old City of Jerusalem originally commissioned in 1936, and then modified in 1947, just prior to the War for Independence. What stands out to me is the date of the reprint, June of 1967, when for the first time in two millennia the city was under Jewish control. CSS member Steve Cavior, a retired math professor from UB, purchased the map in 1970 when he was touring Israel. The map represents a new beginning for the State of Israel, a time when the holiest sites in our tradition, the Western Wall, the City of David, would be free and safe to visit. The twenty years between the two reprintings of the map were some of the hardest in our history, to be so close to everything we had been longing for, and yet, not be able to take that final step inside the walls of the Old City. I envy Steve and everyone who traveled to Israel at that time, for witnessing a moment the Jewish people had been waiting for since 135 CE, when the last of the Bar Kokhba revolt was stamped out by the Romans and any hope for a national renewal was gone.
On Friday night Cantor Frank sang the words from Psalm 137 made famous by a Rastafarian group called The Melodians in 1970, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, and yea we wept, we wept, when we remembered Zion... They carried us away in captivity requiring of us a song... Now how shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?” It describes the first exile from 568 BCE, when the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple and exiled our people to Babylon. This past Tuesday we observed the fast of the Ninth of Av, a date when both Temples and the defeat of the Bar Kokhba revolt are said to have occurred. Even thousands of years later, the sadness seeps in, a reminder of the pain, suffering, and humiliation, our people suffered to foreign powers. This for me, is countered somewhat, by the joy that comes from the map, a map originally commissioned by the British, and that could be reimagined by the largely secular Israeli leadership in the weeks after the Six Day War. For the first time in millennia we had closure, for the first time we could look at the bones of an ancient city built by our ancestors and be at peace. On behalf of Shir Shalom, I thank Steve Cavior for his donation to our community and welcome you to go and take a look at the map next time you are in the building.