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Jewish Leaders from Around the Globe Gather to Celebrate Jerusalem’s Unity

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“Jerusalem will forever remain the united capital of Israel,” Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin declared as 1,200 Jewish leaders from around the world gathered here this week for festivities celebrating the city’s reunification.

Rabin spoke Sunday night as Jewish leaders from 62 countries opened a three-day Conference on Jerusalem, the culmination of a yearlong series of events celebrating the 25th anniversary of Jerusalem’s reunification.

Speaking before a standing-room-only crowd of delegates, diplomats and dignitaries at the Binyanei Ha’uma Convention Center, the prime minister stated, “We came back to the Western Wall, the old synagogues, the empty old market, to the water holes. We came back, never to leave it again.”

Looking up from his prepared text, Rabin took a more informal tone: “If there is any one message (I can impart) to you, the leaders of the world’s Jewish communities who came to show solidarity, it is to share what you have seen here with your families and communities back home,” he said.

The prime minister urged the leaders to describe how “Jerusalem and Israel have grown and prospered; how the city allows free access to members of all religions. We, the Jewish people who were oppressed, we have not forgotten it, and we will never bar others from practicing their religion here,” he said.

Political analysts say Rabin’s remarks may have been designed to reassure Diaspora Jewish leaders that Israel is not prepared to relinquish East Jerusalem in any future peace negotiations.

His comments come at a time when some Jews, both here and abroad, have expressed concern that the Labor government will make too many concessions in the Middle East peace talks.

CHILDREN ARE THE BIG HIT

Sunday night’s gala opening ceremony underscored the prime minister’s message not only with words but with imagery.

Described by one American delegate as “an inspired mix of high-tech and schmaltz,” the evening began with speeches by the prime minister, World Zionist Organization Chairman Simcha Dinitz and World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman. It then moved on to a heart-tugging look at the centrality of Jerusalem in the hearts and minds of Jews throughout the ages.

Rare black-and-white footage showed Jews fighting against the Arab Legion during the War of Independence, and the Israel Defense Force’s dramatic liberation of the Old City in 1967.

Performances by a wide array of local choirs and dance groups, including those made up of Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, was proof positive of the city’s diverse character.

But by nearly everyone’s reckoning, the evening’s true stars were the children, who sang and danced their hearts out. The audience was especially impressed with a choir of Ethiopian kids whose simple ode to Jerusalem was sung in Hebrew, but whose melody was inspired by the music of their native Ethiopia.

“The enthusiasm of those kids is infectious,” Seymour Reich, president of the American Zionist Movement, remarked at the close of the ceremony.

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