On Thursday, during the Nine Days preceding the Ninth of Av, which commemorates the anniversary of the destruction of the Jewish Holy Temples and Jerusalem, a collection of over 50,000 signatures to a document proclaiming the city’s eternal unity as Israel’s undivided spiritual and political capital was presented by Israel365 to Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein.
The document, known as the Jerusalem Covenant, is inspired by the renewal of the covenant of God during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, and incorporates Biblical passages as well as Rabbinic texts that emphasize the importance of Jerusalem. The Covenant was first drafted in 1992 by Deputy Chief Justice Rabbi Menachem Elon to mark the 25th anniversary of the city’s reunification.
In 2013, faith-based diplomacy NGO Israel365 revived the Covenant, offering Jewish and Christian supporters of Zion world-wide the chance to express their belief in Israel’s ancient Biblical right to the city of Jerusalem. The first project garnered over 10,000 digital signatures in just two weeks, and the following year, the Covenant gained double the amount of signatures, reaching a total of over 23,000 signatories.
This year, the Covenant received 50,264 signatures from over 100 countries, ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe. The timing of the presentation is especially significant this year, as the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av, which this year falls on Sunday, July 26, represents the yearning of Jews to renew the glory of Jerusalem. The day is the anniversary of the destruction of both the first and second Holy Temples, and Jews are commanded to mourn the loss for a full nine days.
The signatures, bound and printed in a book, were presented to Edelstein by Israel365 staff and Root Source co-founder Gidon Ariel in Edelstein’s office at the Knesset. Edelstein expressed admiration for the project and appreciation for its efforts to grow interfaith support for Israel.
“Thank you very much for what you’re doing,” he said. Edelstein spoke about the importance of coexistence between different religions, especially considering recent tensions, saying, “We are facing a serious clash of civilizations, and not everyone’s head is very well set for that.”
The speaker added, “If we look at it more globally, it’s not just about protecting Jerusalem, it’s a much wider message.”
Edelstein also spoke about the Covenant in the context of the present mourning period for Jerusalem, saying, “The Nine Days and the fast of Tisha B’av (the Ninth of Av) are deeply rooted in our tradition as far as Judaism is concerned and it’s also something for us to remember every day, especially in this building, in the Knesset.”
He drew a parallel between ancient times and the present day. “We are so concerned with our day-to-day work that sometimes we forget that since those days of Tisha B’av, for 2,000 years, we didn’t have any signs or symbols of independence, of sovereignty. And now here we are in the Knesset building. People from all countries come here every day to bow to the Israeli flag, to take pictures by the Israeli flag, to talk with Israeli parliamentarians.”
Nothing could be more symbolic of Israel’s strength, he added, than looking from the total destruction of Tisha B’av to the success of the Israeli state today.
Edelstein, a religious Jew, observes the tradition of not shaving his face or cutting his hair during the Three Weeks leading up to the Ninth of Av. Gesturing to the few weeks’ growth of stubble on his face, he told the group, “It’s not very convenient because I have to explain to every foreign dignitary why I look homeless, and not like the speaker of parliament they were expecting to meet. I tell them it’s part of the Jewish tradition, that we are in a mourning period.”
He spoke about reading Eicha, or the Book of Lamentations, which is traditionally read on the eve of the Ninth of Av, on the ancient historical site of Herodian. “Some say that this was one of the last places where Jews could see the Temple burning. I always have this sad feeling that probably just several months before Tisha B’av of that year, some Jews were standing on Herodian looking at Jerusalem, and just like us, they would think, nothing could ever happen to this city.”
He cautioned that though Jerusalem is currently safe, we should not take anything for granted. “We should be aware of the fact that if we don’t protect Jerusalem and we don’t work for Jerusalem every day, history has this terrible tendency to repeat itself.”
Edelstein recalled commemorating the Ninth of Av in the former Soviet Union, where he grew up and was imprisoned as a refusenik before moving to Israel. “Few of us former refuseniks or Jewish activists grew up with any religious tradition, but in the last several years of our lives in the former Soviet Union, Tisha B’av was one of the symbols once again. That was the attitude – look where we were once and look at the state of Israel today, with a strong army, with sovereignty, with all the attributes that were lacking for 2,000 years.”
Weisz also spoke about the timely relevance of the Jerusalem Covenant, saying, “As the Jewish people mourn the ancient destruction of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, we are once again living in historic, prophetic and Biblical times today, with so many non-Jews joining our efforts to rebuild Jerusalem and ensure that it remains the undivided capital of the Jewish people.”
Gidon Ariel, co-founder founder of Root Source, an online learning resource featuring Israeli Jews teaching Christians about Judaism, agreed, saying, “In a generation jam-packed with miracles, two of the greatest are the phenomenon of Christian support for Israel and the development and importance of Jerusalem. Christians worldwide are repenting for the sin of hating Jews and supporting Israel and Jerusalem in the face of enmity the likes of which few today can recall. Most of these Christians and their Jewish friends recognize these miracles and together pray for God to complete His miracle of establishing His kingdom in Jerusalem below as in Jerusalem above.”