Since the days of antiquity, Jewish poets have demonstrated their strong commitment to the city of Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest city.
Jerusalem has such an important place in the Jewish soul that poems in praise of the Holy City exist even in Biblical literature.
For example, Psalm 137:1-6 proclaims, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, we also wept when we remembered Zion…. How shall we sing the song of the Lord on foreign soil?” If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget [its skill]. May my tongue cling to my palate, if I do not remember you, if I do not make Jerusalem my greatest joy!”
Another ancient poem speaking about the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem was found within a scroll in Qumran. The scroll is over 2,000 years old, and the poet declares:
The grace of your prophets O Jerusalem is unforgettable and by the deeds of your righteous are glorified. Evil, lies and injustice were cut out of you. Your children will rejoice in you and those who love you will follow you. O Zion, so many hoped for your salvation and continually mourned for you. Your hope will never be lost O Zion and you will never be forgotten. Justice will save you while evil will hurt; every person is judged by his behavior and according to his deeds will be rewarded. Your enemies all around, O Zion, were cut off and those who hate you will be scattered. The fragrance of your goodness, O Zion, is pleasant, it blesses all the earth. Forever O Jerusalem you are a blessing, with all of my heart I bless you.
Yehuda Ha-Levi (1085 -1141), one of the great Jewish poets of medieval Spain, wrote a poem lamenting the loss of Jerusalem and Zion, asserting, “My heart is in the East and I am at the edge of the West; Then how can I taste what I eat, how can I enjoy it? How can I fulfill my vows and pledges? While Zion is in the domain of Edom, and I am in the bonds of Arabia? It would be easy for me to leave behind all the good things of Spain; it would be glorious to see the dust of the ruined shrine.”
Another well-known medieval Jew who used to live in Spain, Nachmanides, after he was forced to flee Spain for defending the Jewish faith following the Disputation of Barcelona, immigrated to Israel around 1263. There, in Jerusalem, he proclaimed in a beautifully written poem, “But the loss of all this and of every other glory my eyes saw is compensated by having now the joy of being a day in thy courts, O Jerusalem, visiting the ruins of the Temple, and crying over the desolate sanctuary.”
Modern Jewish poets describe the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem just as vividly. For example, Naomi Shemer, in a song titled “Jerusalem of Gold,” wrote, “Oh Jerusalem of gold and of light and of bronze; I am the lute for all your songs. But as I sing to you, my city, and you with crowns adorn, I am the least of all your children, of all the poets born. Your name will scorch my lips forever, like a seraph’s kiss, I’m told. If I forget thee, golden city, Jerusalem of gold. Oh Jerusalem of gold and of light and of bronze; I am the lute for all your songs. The wells are filled again with water, the square with joyous crowd, on the Temple Mount within the city, the shofar rings aloud.”
Another contemporary Jewish poem by Nell Zier similarly states, “For 2,000 years, you sat there, alone; Waiting, waiting – forgotten, forlorn; Weeping tears of despair, lamenting; “Where have all My children gone?” From the great Temple in Heaven, an awesome Voice was heard; “Oh Jerusalem, oh Jerusalem, no longer shall I wait; Now, stand back and see what I shall do! I am bringing your children Home; they shall again possess their land; Watch them build Your cities strong; Taste their new sweet wine; Listen to their voices shouting My Song; ‘This is the City of G-d.’”
Such Jewish poetry demonstrates clearly that from antiquity to the present, the Jewish people has continuously been attached to the Holy City of Jerusalem. Even while living in the Diaspora, Jews never stopped yearning for their Jerusalem, their eternal capital.
By Rachel Avraham