From Mizrach to Jerusalem

By Robert Lichtman

At times of prayer, for centuries, Jews have faced Jerusalem. No matter where we find ourselves today, once upon a time we lived there (or thereabouts). In turning to Jerusalem we enact one of the few universal practices that unite Jews everywhere in our deeds and in our imaginations.

Over time, the direction of Jerusalem superseded the city itself. People sought Mizrach (East) as the direction in which to turn. Seats by the synagogue’s Eastern Wall became the most coveted. Beautiful directional signs were created by talented artists to adorn synagogues, schools, Jewish institutions, homes and now, even smartphones.

This coming 28th of Iyar (May 24) will mark the first 50 years that we have enjoyed the privilege of returning to the united city that has been and will always be the focal point of our prayers and our dreams of peace. It’s understandable that for thousands of years, we faced “Mizrach.” If we said we were facing “Jerusalem,” we would have been facing a ghost. But after 50 years of a reunited city once again living, breathing and growing, it is time to proclaim that we are not simply facing Mizrach; we are facing Jerusalem!

As part of our suite of experiences to mark the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in Greater MetroWest, we are inviting artists to build upon the traditions of their predecessors and to design new signs to adorn our synagogues, schools, JCC’s, Federation and homes. From now on the signs will direct our focus not to Mizrach, but to Yerushalayim. We encourage other communities to do the same.

Artists may use whatever medium they wish. This is not a contest. There are no prizes. They retain ownership of their work. We simply ask them to join us in generating a shift from one historic paradigm to another, to provoke people to look at things differently. That’s what artists do.

The simple act of focusing on Jerusalem rather than Mizrach actually reunites us all; not only those of us in the West who face East, but Jews in South Africa or the Negev who face North; Jews in the Galil or Moscow who face South; Jews in the Far East who face West. Now we will all turn towards Jerusalem. And the inspired visions of today’s artists will guide us.

Robert Lichtman is the Chief Jewish Learning Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.