Chag Sameach to all of Israel, and especially to Jerusalem which is celebrating 45 years of reunification since its liberation in the Six Day War of 1967.
Arutz Sheva has a short but evocative piece about Yom Yerushalayim’s events, Jerusalem’s history andthe fateful days leading up to the Six Day War and Israel’s miraculous victory.
The outnumbered Jewish defenders of the Old City and its Jewish residents, who had lived there continuously for hundreds of years, were forced to evacuate during Israel’s War of Independence. The Jordanians destroyed 48 of the 49 synagogues they overran, used gravestones from the ancient Mount of Olives Cemetery for latrines and closed the Old City to Jews.
Synagogues were full Saturday night as many Israelis held special, festive prayer sessions in honor of the 45th anniversary of the capital’s reunification, declared a minor Jewish holiday by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. Some synagogues recite the Hallel prayer in the morning and recite some of the holiday prayers. Memorial services are also held for IDF soldiers who fell freeing the city.
The government will hold a special session Sunday at Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem, which was the site of some of the Six Day War’s fiercest battles and where 36 paratroopers died. During the session the government will vote on a series of motions aimed to develop Jerusalem in terms of tourism, economy and more.
At 3 p.m. the annual Jerusalem Day Rikudglaim (march and dancing with Israeli flags), led by religious Zionist high school students and youth organizations will take place in and around the Old City.
Later in the evening, the flagship religious Zionist yeshiva, Merkaz Harav Kook in Jerusalem will host the main Jerusalem Day celebrations. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, rabbis from all over the country, ministers, and members of Knesset are expected to be in attendance.
In the early hours of the morning, continuing a 45 year old tradition, Merkaz HaRav students will dance their way from the yeshiva, located near the entrance to the city, to the Western Wall.
The Merkaz Harav event will be broadcast live on Arutz Sheva.
It was at Merkaz Harav yeshiva at the Independence Day celebration of 1967, that the venerable Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook zts”l, son of Chief Rabbi HaRav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook who had also been head of the yeshiva, rose to speak and broke into the anguished cry -
“Where is our Hevron? Where is our Jericho? Where is our Shechem? Where is every bit of Eretz Yisrael? How can we accept that the verse that says ‘and they divided my land’ has come to pass?”
He told the awestruck students “I could not be truly happy [seeing the lack of these holy sites in the partition borders] on the first Independence Day [in 1948]“.
The very next day, Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran and threated the Jewish state with extinction. The Six Day War began three weeks later, with the whole world expecting Israel’s annihilation. Graves were dug in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv by high schoolers in preparation for catastrophe.
However, the students had reason to recall his prophetic words with awe, when his prayers were answered and Jerusalem, Hevron, Shechem and Jericho returned to Jewish hands in a miraculous victory.
Mota Gur, the legendary commander of the forces that entered the Old City announced on Israel radio: “The Temple Mount is in our hands,” IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren blew the shofar at the Western Wall, and thousands of Israelis rushed to Jerusalem and made their way on foot to the Wall after 19 years in which Jordan had denied them access to Judaism’s holiest site.
The Jerusalem Post has several articles about Jerusalem and the Six Day War from different perspectives.
In one article, an IDF veteran recounts his experiences in the battle for Jerusalem:
“I knew in my head that this was something historic,” Cahaner recalled on Friday, 45 years later. Even in the midst of the heavy fighting, he said, “I knew it was a very important event, and a really important war for the Jewish people.”
On Sunday, as the nation celebrates Jerusalem Day and the anniversary of the reunification of the capital during the Six Day War, the 77-year-old Cahaner, who now lives in Kibbutz Neveh Eitan near Beit She’an, will join dozens of his fellow soldiers along the same road that they fought so hard to capture 45 years ago. At points where they fought with Jordanian forces, the veterans will lay wreaths and honor their fallen comrades.
Cahaner said that even today he gets chills when he drives though east Jerusalem or sees the city from afar, knowing he played a part in its history.
“Every day, I feel the honor that I had to be responsible for Jerusalem,” he said.
In another article, a Hebrew University student at the time gives his eyewitness account of the battle:
“Three weeks before the war, the country went on emergency status. The only ones left in the dorms were foreign students and Arab students,” he says.
David remembers those days well.
“On full blast in all our rooms was the English news from Jordanian radio concluding each broadcast with: ‘and to all you Zionists in Israel’ (with the sound of machine gun fire in the background).”
Wilensky realized these non-Israelis had their own agenda.
“The Arab students in the dorm, whom we lived with on a daily basis, were having victory parties, and someone left a bathing suit hanging on the door of our Israeli counselor in the dorm [Jews into the sea].”
Another student, Adrienne Dodi’s experience was a bit different. She volunteered to work at the Hadassah Hospital switchboard. While there in those last weeks in May, the newspapers ran advertisements from the American embassy advising American citizens to leave. Adrienne received a more personal notice. Her parents had convinced their congressman to contact the embassy here, which duly dispatched an official to her dorm.
“Your parents have requested the ambassador to send you home,” he announced. “Why are you remaining in a country in a state of war?” Even back then it was clear where her heart was.
“I’m not in a foreign country,” she recalls saying. “This is where I belong.”
The opening of the war for David Wilensky, who returned to Jerusalem from Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, was quite different. Let us listen to his firsthand report.
“On the first morning of the war, the siren went off at eight in the morning. We, of course, had returned to the dorms, and I remember how the cleaning lady stood at attention with her ‘sponga’ stick since she thought it was a memorial day. The only communication was by radio so we listened closely, hearing about the battles with the Egyptians but also being told by the announcer that it did not appear as if Jordan would enter the war.”
College students always like to move around, as David explains.
“So I and three other students headed downtown to take our laundry to the regular store where we had it done, which was located next to the main post office building on Jaffa Road. As we were waiting to hand in our laundry, suddenly, we heard the sound of artillery shelling and small arms fire. For those who only know Jerusalem as it is today, the old border dividing Jewish Jerusalem from Jordan was only a few hundred meters away from where we were standing.”
The next few seconds seemed an eternity for David, as it indeed it must have been.
“The proprietor of the store, where we were, started to cry because he had several sons in the army. As the shelling continued, no let-up whatsoever, we dashed across Jaffa Road, jumping into the stairwell of another building for protection. We huddled up there as the firing continued from the Jordanian troops. There were moments of real uncertainty. To our relief, about an hour later, Israeli tanks rolled up Jaffa Road in the direction of the border. That was the first time we were a little reassured. I guess as a New Orleans native, I was reminded of the Battle of New Orleans where civilians were lucky to survive.”
Even with the tanks, the shelling did not cease.
“We decided that the main post office building would offer us better protection. Running across the street we relocated to that building.”
On the second day of the war, David and his friends returned to the dorm at the Hebrew University. That was a target, too.
“Shells hit the campus at Givat Ram because the Army had placed the artillery batteries below in the Valley of the Cross. I slept in a building where it appeared we were safer.”
By the third evening of the war, the students went to the cafeteria. It was there the news came.
“‘The Kotel is in our hands,’ and over the radio we heard Rav Goren blow the shofar.”
The most wonderful moment for all those who were in Jerusalem on Shavuot was to enter the Old City, where they had not been since 1948. David Wilensky had that opportunity.
“I was invited to the home of one of my teachers for the ‘tikkun’ on Shavuot night. At four in the morning we began to walk, with footsteps echoing around us in the darkness, as throngs converged in the direction of the Old City. We entered through one of gates, walked through the rubble. We had arrived! We joined the multitudes of our fellow Jews as we all prayed for the first time at the Kotel, the Western Wall.”
The final article that I want to link to is the JPost’s editorial on Yom Yerushalayim:
According to Jewish tradition, Abraham nearly sacrificed his son Isaac in Jerusalem. Seven hundred years later – around 1000 BCE – King David turned the city into the capital of a united Jewish state and his son Solomon built the First Temple there. Jerusalem has been sacked and razed and rebuilt and destroyed yet again for dozens of centuries. Assyrians, Babylonians, Seleucids and Romans have come and gone. In the past millennium, Muslims and Christians – each with their own ideas about Jerusalem’s meaning – have killed each other for the right to rule the city.
Since the destruction of the Second Temple, Jews yearned to return to Jerusalem. They prayed for the rebuilding of the Temple and the ingathering of the exiles. A built Jerusalem was conceived not principally as a physical place so much as an ideal, a symbol of Jewish resurgence preceding the Messianic era.
But Jerusalem was never so completely spiritualized that it became nothing more than a metaphor. Jews never lost sight of yerushalayim shel mata – the earthly, material Jerusalem of bricks and concrete. Except for exceptional periods in history there has been an unbroken Jewish presence in Jerusalem throughout the long years of exile. This ember of hope that one day the city of Jerusalem like the mythological phoenix would one day rise up helped fuel the Jewish national movement.
In the 1930s the Jewish population in Jerusalem exceeded 50,000. By 1948 it had doubled. And 19 years later in 1967 it had nearly doubled again to 295,000.
But it was not until the reunification of Jerusalem 45 years ago today, on the 28th of Iyar, that the city truly began to flourish. No longer shackled by oppressive Jordanian rule over its eastern half, it could thrive and develop.
Though the Temple remains in ruins, the earthly, material city has truly been rebuilt. Just wander the streets around Mamilla or visit the outlaying neighborhoods of Pisgat Ze’ev and Neveh Ya’acov.
But integral to the Jewish people’s return to Jerusalem is the need to grapple with the nitty-gritty endeavor of shaping reality in the image of the idea.
On Jerusalem Day we should feel thankful for living in a generation that has witnessed a rebuilt Jerusalem, and daunted by the many challenges that yerushalayim shel mata presents.
I brought these stories not only to celebrate the Israeli political and military victory of 1967, but to demonstrate the miraculous nature of the victory with G-d’s help, and also to illustrate the Jewish connection to Jerusalem throughout the ages. These stories and the history they represent show up the outrageous accusation by Israel’s haters that Israel is “Judaizing” the city for the blatant lie that it is, since it has always been Jewish (i.e. “Judaized”) and the stories also clearly demonstrate how Jerusalem, together with all the Land of Israel, has only flourished under Jewish sovereignty.
Let us also not forget that not only Jerusalem was liberated in 1967, but also the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria (not to mention Sinai and Gaza, both of which have been given “back” to the Arabs, with huge detrimental effect to Israel). In fact, I will be visiting the Shomron later today to participate in a ceremony and other activities to mark the day, together with my family.
I wish all of us a happy Yom Yerushalayim.