Hiding Out

This Thursday evening marks Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, when Israel defeated Jordan and captured the eastern part of the city, uniting it for the first time under Jewish rule in thousands of years. It is a day of celebration, but also one of controversy since Israel’s sovereignty over all of Jerusalem is not recognized by all countries, and the Palestinian Authority would like to make part of the city its capital.

Israel has begun to cautiously reopen following its coronavirus closures. Fortunately its number of cases and deaths have been low and on a steady decline. But an interesting discovery in Jerusalem reminds us that Jews have had to hide out from all kinds of enemies for millennia.

An excavation in the Old City has found a complex of rooms carved out of the bedrock. Archeologists are not certain yet why these spaces were created but it “is the first time a subterranean system has been uncovered adjacent to the Western Wall.” Perhaps the rooms, which contain niches in the wall for oil lamps, were just storage. After all, a basement is a perfect place to store food when you don’t have a refrigerator.

A more intriguing possibility is that the complex was created, or the storage space was used, as a hideout from the Romans during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. We know that Jewish rebels hid out in caves during the Bar Kokhba revolt 65 years later. Perhaps people found refuge in this newly discovered group of rooms.

Jerusalem has always been a place of conflict. During the 19 year period between 1948 and 1967, when the Jordanians controlled East Jerusalem, tensions were high as two armies stood nose to nose across a line of demarcation that stretched through a densely populated urban center.

This charged reality meant that life was far from normal. Today going to the grocery store is an ordeal involving masks, gloves and the proper social distance. For Jerusalemites before 1967 relieving oneself might cause an international incident. In fact, on Yom Kippur in 1965 that is exactly what happened.

An Israeli family in Jerusalem living close to the border with Jordan decided that they were done having to use an outdoor latrine so they started to build a bathroom. The Jordanians objected to a change in the status quo and demanded negotiations on the holiest day in the Jewish year, leading to what became known as the Bathroom Affair (in the end the family got its bathroom).

Today Jerusalem is united geographically, even as deep divisions remain between the Jewish and Arab populations. Tensions still exist, and sometimes turn violent, but at least most of its residents can go about their lives in relative peace, especially as Israel’s lockdown eases. May the peace of Jerusalem persist and spread to us and the rest of the world.

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