Today is Yom Yerushalayim, 45 years to the day since divided Jerusalem was re-unified. With acts of bravery and horrendous loss of life, Israel’s young paratroopers fought their way around the old city until all of Jerusalem was in Israeli hands.
My children went to school this morning dressed in their finest holiday clothes. They were up late at night yesterday, baking cakes to share with their classmates. A special program was prepared for the whole school, designed to teach the children about that historic moment in Israeli history when the Jewish People were known throughout the world for their mettle and bravery.
But here in Jerusalem, not everyone was in a celebratory mood. In the morning, I greeted a friend who was talking earnestly with a tall young fellow outside of the synagogue. After a moment, my friend concluded his conversation, approached me and asked, “Do you know how that young man’s family commemorates Yom Yerushalayim?”
“No, what do they do?”
“They spend the morning at Har Herzl. His grandfather fell with the soldiers who conquered the Old City. Every year, for 45 years, they have a memorial service on this day.”
All around, one could hear the radios playing those old, familiar songs about Jerusalem that many of us, even in the American exile, learned as children in Hebrew school.
But not everyone was interested in the musical memories.
I attended Mincha (afternoon) services at a synagogue not far from my office, which hosts a kollel mainly for Haredi Jews of the Yerushalmi type. They pray the blessings slowly, accented in the heavy Southern European tradition that they learned as children from their parents, who in turn learned from their parents.
I knew there was going to be a snag towards the end of the service, at ‘Tahanun’, the supplications section we recite almost every day – except during holidays and on days when there is a simcha, either private or general.
So I am at the synagogue in my white shirt and white kippa (head covering), indicating that this is indeed a holiday in the eyes of some. However, the majority of the minyan (quorum) was dressed as they are dressed every day of the year – in black hats donned for the service, white shirts, and black robes of various lengths, depending upon which stream of Haredism they identify with.
I braced myself for Tahanun. What was going to happen? Would the dominant minyan crowd make an allowance for the sanctity of Yom Yerushalayim and refrain from saying Tahanun today?
We arrived at the moment of truth. The Rabbi of the synagogue, a slight man with completely white hair and beard, looked around to see how many people in the minyan counted Yom Yerushalayim as a holiday. He then turned toward the front of the synagogue and, without pausing, began the Tahanun section.
Well, I said to myself, this is not my synagogue, and I have no right to insist on doing things my way, especially concerning such a delicate issue as whether to say Tahanun on Yom Yerushalayim. So as the congregation sat down together to bow their heads, I remained standing, not saying a word, with my eyes closed. While I was not the only one who wasn’t saying the supplications, it felt strange to be out of sync with the majority of the minyan.
The truth be known, I know where these people are coming from, and why they can’t bring themselves to recognize officially one of the most miraculous events to take place in the past 2000 years of Jewish history – the Six Day War. It’s a question of cognitive dissonance. They cannot accept the possibility that the very Redemption they have been waiting for so faithfully for all these years is actually happening, albeit coming about in a manner that they never imagined. How could a non-religious state be responsible for the most important religious development in modern Jewish history? It doesn’t make sense!
They are right – but it doesn’t change the reality. The facts are in front of us. Anyone who wishes can learn what our Sages said about the how the period before the final redemption would unfold. I’ve looked at this enough to be convinced beyond a doubt – what is happening here is nothing less than the fulfillment of thousands of years of yearning by millions of Jews throughout the world.
So as tough as it is – I’m not discouraged. We’ve come a long way, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a long way to go. Neither does it preclude the possibility at any moment of the arrival of a quantum change in our condition.
Stay tuned – don’t touch that dial.