This year, we commemorate 50 years since the Six-Day war in 1967, the reunification of Jerusalem, and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem had a profound impact not only in Israel but also on Jewish communities all around the world. For (at least) several weeks prior to the outbreak of the war in June of 1967, Arab states throughout the region called for Israel’s imminent destruction. In only six days, the IDF (Israel’s Defense Forces) not only handed an astonishing defeat to the several armies that attacked—they also acquired large amounts of land in the process.
Considering the massive amount of troops that outnumbered the IDF forces, and that Israel stood alone in fighting the armies of a number of Arab states, many considered the Six-Day War nothing less than miraculous. This generated a profound sense of pride in Diaspora communities and deepened Jewish identity in the Jewish world. This was also a time of passionate support of Israel in Diaspora communities and marked a significant transformation in the American Jewish community as well.
This is the first time Jews have had control Jerusalem since the Destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. Jerusalem Day (Hebrew: יום ירושלים, Yom Yerushalayim) is an Israeli national holiday commemorating these historical events. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel declared Jerusalem Day a minor religious holiday to mark the regaining of access to the Western Wall. This year, the holiday falls on Wednesday, May 24.
The observance of Yom Yerushalayim outside of the city cannot compare to its celebration in reunited Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, thousands of people march around the city and walk through the liberated Old City, where Jews were denied access from 1948 to 1967 while it was under Jordanian control. The march ends at the Kotel (Western Wall)—one of the ancient retaining walls surrounding the Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site. Once everyone gets to the Kotel, there are speeches, concerts, and celebratory dancing.
It’s gradually becoming a “pilgrimage” day when thousands of Israelis travel (some even hike) to Jerusalem to demonstrate solidarity with the city.
The Israeli education system devotes the week preceding this day to enhancing the knowledge of the history and geography of the city, with a special emphasis on the unique role that it played in Jewish messianic aspirations since Biblical times.
Jews have lived in the land of Israel for nearly 4,000 years, going back to the period of the biblical patriarchs (c.1900 BCE). The story of the Jewish people, Israel, its capital Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple there has been one of exile, destruction, and rebirth. In its 4,000 years of history, Jerusalem has been destroyed many times, and many times reborn. There has always remained a Jewish presence in the land of Israel and in Jerusalem, and the Jewish people as a whole always dreamed of returning to and rebuilding it, a longing reflected in the concluding words of Israel’s national anthem, ‘Ha Tikvah’ (‘The Hope’):
“The hope of 2000 years: To live as a free people in our own land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”
Noam Grinfeld, Israeli Shlichah & Debbie Goodman, Director of Jewish Life & Learning