Jerusalem Day – Yom Yerushalayim – marks the reunification of our city on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar in 1967.
Yom Yerushalayim is the day on which we celebrate the unity of our city and the free access to places of worship for all religions. There are a variety of official ceremonies to mark the event, but the main attraction is the Religious Youth parade that marches from Sacher Park to the Western Wall, rejoicing in the fact that we once more have access to our most holy site – just as Christians now too can enjoy free access to their holy sites in the Old City.
It is very hard to believe, when you walk along the Arlov-Mamilla Mall toward the Old City and then down to the Western Wall, that not that long ago, Mamilla was a war zone and the Old City was off-limits. Israeli citizens who dared to venture anywhere in view of the ramparts risked their lives.
Jerusalem was divided in 1948, after five Arab armies attacked the newly declared State of Israel. After bitter fighting, Jordan conquered the eastern part of Jerusalem and the Old City, expelled all Jewish residents and systematically destroyed Jewish homes and places of worship. For the next 19 years, Jordanian snipers would patrol the ramparts of Jerusalem, occasionally shooting at the Israeli population below and forbidding any access to Judaism’s most holy site, the Temple Mount. They also severely restricted access to the many important churches and Christian places of worship in the Old City.
In 1967, with the winds of war brewing, Israel sent a message to Jordan that it would not attack it so long as Jordan did not join Egypt in the coming war. Israeli army commanders in Jerusalem were instructed not to escalate tensions under any circumstances. And yet at 10:00 a.m. on June 7, Jordan attacked Jerusalem and breached into Israeli territory.
The Israeli Army, supported by huge numbers of Jerusalemites who showed up en masse to dig ditches, provide first aid or any other necessary services, not only defended the city, but reconquered the Old City, eastern Jerusalem, and pushed the retreating Jordanian Army all the way back to the Jordan River.
Jerusalem is at the heart of the Jewish religion. Three times a day, every day, Jews pray facing Jerusalem for the privilege to return here. It is hard to describe the heartbreaking tear in the Israeli psyche – and for Jews all over the world – caused by the division of Jerusalem. The day of its completely unexpected, miraculous reunification is one of the most awe-inspiring moments of modern times.
For the first time in 19 years, Jews were able to enter their cherished Jerusalem, touch the stones of the Western Wall and pray at their most holy site.
Since that day, which we celebrate on Jerusalem Day each year, the city has once more been united – as it had been for over 3,000 years - and people of all religions are free to come and worship within its ancient walls.
May we always appreciate the privilege we have to do so, and never take it for granted.
Jerusalem Day would not be complete without prayer – prayers of praise for the gift of a united Jerusalem; prayers of hope for a lasting peace.
As usual, King David said things best in Psalm 122:
A song of ascents, by David. I rejoiced when they said to me, “Let us go the House of Hashem.” Our feet stood firm within your gates, O Jerusalem. The built up Jerusalem is like a city that is united together. For there the tribes ascended, the tribes of God, a testimony for Israel, to give thanks to the Name of Hashem. For there sat thrones of judgment, thrones for the house of David. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; those who love you will be serene. May there be peace within your wall, serenity within your palaces. For the sake of my brethren and my comrades, I shall speak of peace in your midst. For the sake of the House of Hashem, our God, I will request good for you. - Translation by Mesorah Publishers
This Psalm has inspired many songs as well, most notably, Shlomo Carlebach’s iconic Yehi Shalom.
Songs to Celebrate:
We’ve got of a whole page of Jerusalem songs – songs that praise this wondrous city of ours. But for Jerusalem Day, my two top picks also happen to be the songs used in two of the videos on this page:
The classic Jerusalem of Gold by Naomi Shemer was released in May 1967. Two months later it seemed prophetic. It was the song sung by Israeli Paratroopers when they liberated the Western Wall. It became forevermore the song that defines that period in time and is a standard feature of any Jerusalem Day celebration.
It’s been covered by so many artists, I couldn’t possibly tell you which version is the best. Choose and download your favorite version of Jerusalem of Gold here.
Once you’ve soared with the longing of that song, move into celebration mode on this joyous day with Aye Aye Yerushalayim, a classic by Jerusalem’s famed all-women band Tofa’ah will have you grooving and dancing – Jerusalem with a Latin twist.
Articles, Books and E-books:
"Why Jerusalem Matters" is a beautiful, thoughtful article by Rabbi Shraga Simmons.
Avraham Rabinovich was an American foreign war correspondent
who arrived in Israel five days before the 1967 war broke out. He witnessed the unexpected liberation of
"The Battle for Jerusalem" is his account of the war, based on his own experiences and over 300 interviews. A fascinating read.