The phone rings. "You're coming to Jerusalem, right?" says Janice.
"For the protest!" Janice says, completely exasperated with me.
"Ah, I can't make it."
"But, you HAVE to make it! Everyone has to come! Israel can not give up Jerusalem! Without Jerusalem, the Jews are again a scattered people with no live link to the past and only fragile hopes for the future. You better come to Jerusalem because this is a critical moment in Jewish history."
Jerusalem is holy to more people than any other city on earth. For Muslims, Jerusalem (known as Al-Quds, the Holy) is where Muhammad ascended to heaven. For Christians, Jerusalem is where Jesus walked, was crucified and resurrected. Why is Jerusalem a sacred city for Jews?
Jewish ties to Jerusalem go back to the time of Abraham, the father of Judaism. To test Abraham's faith in God, God said to Abraham, "Take, I beg of you, your son, your only son, whom you love, Yitzhak, and get yourself to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as an offering on one of the mountains on which I will tell you." (Genesis 22:2) It is on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem that Abraham passes God's test of faith. Mount Moriah came to symbolize for the Jews the supreme embodiment of their relationship with God.
Then, "Abraham named this place: God Sees, which today is expressed as follows: On the mountain of God is one seen." (Genesis 22:14) From this Jews understand that in Jerusalem, unlike any other place on earth, God is almost tangible.
In approximately 1000 B.C.E., King David conquered the Canaanite center called Jebus. Then he built the City of David on the southern slope of Mount Moriah. One of David's first acts after conquering Jerusalem was to bring into the city the Ark of the Covenant which contained the Tablets of the Law.
Thereupon David went and brought up the Ark of God from the house of Oved-edom to the City of David, amid rejoicing. When the bearers of the Ark of the Lord had moved forward six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David whirled with all his might before the Lord; David was girt with a priestly garment. Thus David and all the House of Israel brought up the Ark of the Lord with shouts and with blasts of the shofar. (2 Samuel 6:13)
With the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant, Jerusalem became a holy city and the center of worship for the Israelites.
It was David's son, Solomon who built the Temple for God on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, inaugurating it in 960 BCE. The mostly costly materials and advanced builders were used to create this magnificent Temple, which would house the Ark of the Covenant.
After placing the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple's Holy of Holies (Dvir), Solomon reminded the Israelites of the responsibilities they faced now with God living among them:
But will God really dwell on earth? Even the heavens to their uttermost reaches cannot contain You, now much less this House that I have built! Yet turn, O Lord my God, to the prayer and supplication of Your servant, and hear the cry and prayer which Your servant offers before You this day. May Your eyes be open day and night toward this House, toward the place of which You have said, "My name shall abide there".... (I Kings 8:27-31)
According to the Book of Kings, God responded to Solomon's prayer by accepting the Temple and promising to continue the Covenant with the Israelites on condition the Israelites keep God's laws. "I have heard the prayer and the supplication which you have offered to Me. I consecrate this House which you have built and I set My name there forever." (I Kings 9:3)
After Solomon's death, the Kingdom of Israel became divided and Jerusalem's state declined. The prophet Isaiah warned the Jews about their religious obligations.
Isaiah also envisioned Jerusalem's future role as a religious center that would inspire people to follow God's laws.
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the Mount of the Lord's House shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all the nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, "Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths." For Torah shall come forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall decide among many peoples: And they shall beat their sword into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2: 1-4)
Under the influence of Isaiah, King Hezekiah (727-698 B.C.E.) purified the Temple and strengthened the walls of Jerusalem. In an effort to ensure Jerusalem's ability to withstand a siege, Hezekiah also dug a water tunnel, 533 meters long, from the spring of Gihon into a reservoir inside the city walls at the pool of Siloam.
Some believe that Hezekiah's purification of the Temple and contribution to the safety of Jerusalem is the reason that God protected the city when Assyrians besieged it:
That night an angle of the Lord went out and struck down one hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp, and the following morning they were all dead corpses. So King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and retreated, and stayed in Nineveh. (2 Kings 19:35-36)
Unlike the Assyrians, the Babylonians, in 586 B.C.E., succeeded to conquer Jerusalem. The Babylonians, led by Nebuchadnezzer, destroyed the Temple and exiled the Jews to Babylonia.
Even in exile, however, Jews never forgot their holy city of Jerusalem.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hung our lyres under the willows in its midst. For there they who carried us away captive asked us for a song: and tehy who spoiled us asked us for mirth, saying. "Sing us one of the songs of Zion." How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth. (Psalm 137: 1-6).