Former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau celebrated 73 years in Israel by receiving Bar Ilan University’s Guardian of Zion Award Tuesday, and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the city is going through an “historic” time that includes a cultural, religious and business renaissance that will propel the city into a period of growth and excellence in the coming years.
Introducing Lau at the award ceremony, hosted in the capital by the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University, Barkat said he has watched “history unfold” during his 10 years as mayor, and added that revamped US policies vis-à-vis the city and the entire Middle East have set the stage for the city to flourish in the coming years.
“We went through tough times during the Obama era,” Barkat told the largely Orthodox gathering. “But since Trump (took office), amazing things have happened. Whereas the Americans had tried to be nice to bad guys… we in peace-seeking Israel just became more and more confused.
“But over the past year, Trump has made order. He’s sided with the good guys, moved the embassy – he doesn’t accept evil. There is a new world order, especially in the Middle East,” Barkat added.
During an hour-long keynote address. Rabbi Lau, who joined former British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Israel Museum Director James S. Snyder, authors Cynthia Ozick, Herman Wouk, and the late Prof. Elie Wiesel as Guardian of Zion laureates, said while he is concerned both about global anti-Semitism and about the lack of basic Jewish values amongst secular Israelis, he said the Jews’ unique “ability” to argue unique is what causes him to lose sleep.
“Twenty-one parties ran during the first Knesset elections, in 1949. 21! There were only 600,000 people living here, but 21 political parties! There weren’t even good jobs to give out to political allies or cronies,” Lau said, getting a laugh.
“Compare it to the United States, where there are two main parties. Or the United Kingdom, where there are two main parties. Here, we had 21,” he said.
Lau cautioned against glossing over or sugar coating Judeophobic rhetoric and attacks – he noted recent incidents in France and Australia as just two occurances- in modern times, and added that anybody who is “faithful to Zion” has a responsibility to act to affect positive change in one of the three parameters. He said it is clear that the values that unite Israelis are far greater than the issues that divide Israeli society, and bemoaned the fact that it appears to take an existential threat in order for people to remember that.
To illustrate, the rabbi described a scene in Tel Aviv in May, 1967, as the municipality had ordered graves to be dug in public parks ahead of the coming war that was expected to cause thousands of military and civilian deaths.
“I went to the makolet (local grocery) and there were two sisters who hadn’t talked to one another in years. Hesitatingly, one leaned into the other and said ‘have you heard from your husband,’ who had been called up for emergency reserve duty. The other sister asked after her nephew, and then asked if her sister had enough flour or eggs for the house.
“So I guess that is what unifies us. High alert brings us together,” Lau sighed.
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This article was written by TPS. Photo by Hillel Maeir/TPS