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Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem

Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem

Our Torah portion explains that the mabul – the flood – that God sent to destroy the world was as a result of the hamas that had filled the earth. In Biblical translation, this word hamas is usually translated as “violence.” Rabbinic commentaries further explain this “violence” as “economic corruption.”

But violence in the raw, physical sense, is very much with us to this day in our world, particularly with our people in Israel, as the current wave of attacks has risen in recent days, especially in Jerusalem, but elsewhere as well.

A little earlier today (Thursday) I participated in a conference call cosponsored by the New York Board of Rabbis and the Jewish Federations of North America, with Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem. He said that one of the most helpful things for us to do at this moment is to communicate information to our communities. In keeping with that request, here are some of the salient points of his conversation with us.

1) Members of the Palestinian Authority and Arab leadership in Israel are lying to their people with regard to Israel’s intentions on the Temple Mount. Though it is a holy site both for Jews and Muslims, the fact is that Israel has no intention of changing the status of the Temple Mount that would weaken Muslim control over the area in general, and particularly over the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa mosques. This is a lie that has been spread by those who are interested in inciting violence, and has no basis in fact.

2) Israel’s government, and particularly the Municipality of Jerusalem and its police force, are committed to tightening security for the people of Jerusalem, whether Jewish or Muslim, and will not tolerate a spread of this violence. Those who attempt to perpetrate acts of violence are warned that in all probability they will not return home.

3) Mr. Barkat himself has personally conferred with school principals, particularly high school principals, in the Arab sectors of East Jerusalem, to discuss measures of quelling the current wave of violence, since the majority of perpetrators seem to be teenagers. One intention that the principals have is to lengthen the school day for the high schools to at least 5:00 in the afternoon. Whether it is through programs in sports, or computers, or other areas of concentration, they are going to do what they can to lengthen the school day of this age group.

4) In addition, the principals made a request of the mayor, which he will honor. They asked him to please move the policemen away from the schools a bit at the beginning and end of school days, in order to reduce a bit of the tension. But also, the principals requested that police come into the schools to talk with the kids, and bring materials to show the kids that there is another side of the story. Help them to help the kids, in other words, as they attempt to speak the kids’ language so that the kids can understand that violence is not the answer.

5) While Mr. Barkat does not like restricting the points of access to Jerusalem, this is a measure that he is forced to take until the current wave of terror has ceased.

6) There are, indeed, moderate members of the Arab community, both among the police and the school authorities, who are seeking to work together with the Jewish community to end this wave of violence. They feel that they are often overpowered by those determined to incite violence and enmity, but Mr. Barkat and other members of the Jewish community are in close touch with these moderate leaders, in order to put an end to the current violence. No one wants to see Jewish kids, OR Arab kids getting hurt, and potentially killed. The leaders know they must work together to accomplish that goal.

7) While there is admittedly tension in the streets of Jerusalem at this particular moment, life does go on. People go to work, kids go to school, and the Mayor’s Office has not canceled any events in the city. “If terrorists succeed in stopping us from doing what we want to do,” Mr. Barkat observed, “then they have succeeded.” To Jerusalemites as well as to visitors from other countries, Mr. Barkat says unequivocally, “Continue your plans. Help to fight terrorism by not being terrorized.”

[Read Mayor Barkat’s full message here.]

During this Shabbat – October 16/17 – the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations of North America has called for a show of solidarity with Israel and a call for an end to the violence. Those who have committed to this Solidarity Shabbat include: the Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Rabbinical Council of America, the National Council of Young Israel and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Jewish Reconstructionist Communities.

In keeping with this Solidarity Shabbat, we will include prayers during our services for peace in Israel, and between Arabs and Jews.

שאלו שלום ירושלים ישליו אהביך – Sha’alu sh’lom Yerushalayim; yishlayu ohavaych. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you prosper. (Psalm 122.6)