How long do you think there has been a Jewish temple on Temple Mount in Jerusalem?
That is a question I like to ask when I’m leading a discussion with Israelis or Jews from other countries. The most common response is, “Two thousand years.” But that’s actually the answer to a separate question: How long ago did the Romans destroy the Second Temple, beginning the Jewish exile?
According to many scholars, there was a temple on that site for nearly 1,000 years before the Roman destruction. That would mean that for about 3,000 years, Jerusalem has been the center of the Jewish people: a physical center when a temple was standing, and a center for prayer and longing from afar after the Jews were dispersed around the globe. Every year, at the very end of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, and at the end of the Passover Seder, Jews recite, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Then the Jews came back. In the 19th century, Jews began building neighborhoods and settling outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City. Then the Six-Day War of 1967 ended the short Jordanian rule over the Old City and united Jerusalem under Israeli jurisdiction. But this return has proved more controversial internationally. Even the United States, Israel’s closest ally, has not recognized the city as our capital even though our government has been based there since 1949.