No experience in the world can exceed the excitement and meaningfulness of a trip to Jerusalem. That is true not only for Jews, but all people; for in Jerusalem you will find the holy places of the great faiths of the Western world. Of course, for me and for all Jews, the Kotel, the Western Wall, what used to be called the “Wailing Wall,” is the focal point of all our prayers and supplications. I have also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was buried; and I walked the route followed by Jesus when he made the fourteen stops on the way to Calvary. I likewise spent time at the magnificent Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aksa Mosque, which are revered by many millions of Muslims.
One might have thought that a city filled with so much spiritual richness would have produced an aura of inspiration that would have endowed Jerusalem with a legacy of enduring peace and good will. The reality is, however, that in spite of the fact that the name Jerusalem means “City of Peace,” it has been the locus of multitudinous wars and conflicts. Indeed, archeologists tell us that Jerusalem has been built, destroyed and rebuilt forty times in the course of its long history. No other place on the face of the Earth has been the focus of more contentiousness and violence.
Obviously, it is not enough for people zealously and faithfully to follow the tenets of their respective faiths. They must also seek common ground which will make possible a minimal consensus. Diversity of viewpoints is wonderful; but it can create problems unless there are some shared assumptions. Justice Felix Frankfurter once said that the “ultimate foundation of a free society is the binding tie of cohesive sentiment.” Here in the United States of America that cohesive sentiment is fostered by our schools that gather up the traditions of the nation, transmit them from one generation to the next, and thereby create the continuity of a treasured common life.
In the New York City Police Department cohesiveness is generated by our common mission as well as the blood shed by our colleagues. Officers called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice were not selected on the basis of their race, color or creed. They lost their lives solely because of their membership in the Police Department; and included men and women of all backgrounds. The tears we shed for them and their families are more powerful than laws, court rulings or constitutional amendments ever could be in drawing and binding us together.
When it comes to religion no one has ever suggested a better meeting ground than the proposal contained in that marvelous play, Nathan the Wise, by the great German playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. It is the story of a father who possessed a magic ring. The ring had the power of making the owner well-liked and beloved. When the father approached the end of his life, each of his three sons wanted the ring. To which one of them should he give it? He didn’t know what to do since he loved each of his three sons equally. Therefore, he hit upon a scheme. He called in a jeweler and asked him to make two rings exactly like the magic ring. When each of the three sons approached his father and bid him farewell, he handed them each a ring. Now none of the sons were aware of the father’s scheme.
After the father’s death, they discovered what had happened, and each maintained that his was the genuine article. The argument divided the family so they decided to go before a judge to settle the matter. The judge listened to all the brothers, and then he gave his decision: only time will decide. Whoever proves to be the most beloved and best-liked is the one that has the magic ring. Thereupon, each tried to live in accordance with the highest precepts in order to qualify for the title.
In like manner, the major faiths that possess holy sites in the city of Jerusalem believe very strongly in their own importance. They would do well to substantiate those claims by trying to outdo each other in the love and warmth they manifest to all people, believer and non-believer alike. Such a competition would insure that Jerusalem would never have to be rebuilt again. Jerusalem could then become truly a city of peace, inspiring men and women everywhere to lives of sanctity and good will.