Scott Kahn
Director of

Jerusalem Day in 1994… and 30 Years Later

(Photo: Pixabay)

He was 23, he was learning in yeshiva, and he lived in an apartment in Jerusalem with a friend. He was not an Israeli citizen — not yet sure if or when he would be, if he were being honest — but spending the year in Israel had so far been nothing short of a dream. He had arrived after finishing his final college class in December, and expected to leave in August… but he was enjoying Israel so much that he deferred his acceptance to graduate school to January. He wanted to soak up as much experience as he could, and staying 12 full months was the best way to make that happen.

It was Yom Yerushalayim, 1994 — the anniversary of Israel’s miraculous conquest of the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1967, the leaders of Egypt and Syria had been openly talking about driving the Jews into the sea, and prepared militarily to make it happen. The tensions continued rising until June, when Israel not only survived, but decimated the collective armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan (which foolishly ignored Israel’s warnings not to enter the war). After six miraculous days, Israel controlled the Sinai Desert, the Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and the entire city of Jerusalem.

Now it was 27 years later, and Israel, having signed the Oslo accords less than eight months earlier, was convulsed with protests. Israel had withdrawn from the Sinai Peninsula in April, 1982, and the city of Jerusalem was awash in signs and bumper stickers demanding that Israel not relinquish any further territory. But the fears were real: how much of the West Bank would Israel give away? What about the Gaza Strip and the Golan?

And, of course, what about Jerusalem?

So that year’s Yom Yerushalayim celebrations were unusually poignant. It was less than three months after Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 people and injured 125 in Hebron with an assault rifle. His heinous act was followed by widespread condemnation of the wider Religious Zionist community, with Newsweek running a picture of a religious couple standing on a hilltop alongside the caption, “Armed and Dangerous.” It was a scary time to be a Religious Zionist; it felt as though the work of the previous 27 years was coming undone.

He knew all of this, but he was 23 and passionate and in love with Israel; nuance would come when he was older. That night was Yom Yerushalayim, which meant a march from the Merkaz HaRav yeshiva starting well after midnight, continuing from there to the Old City, and marching through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall.

The march was as exciting as he had hoped. He soon made his way close to the front of the line, and several hours before sunrise he reached the Damascus Gate. People ran in, laughing, singing, and banging on the shuttered doors of the Arab-owned shops. And while he wasn’t an ultra-nationalist, and while he didn’t want to openly disrespect the Muslim residents, and while he normally was quiet and tried to follow the rules, the temptation to exult in a miraculous victory was too much to resist. He ran through the abandoned walkways like everyone else, laughing, singing, banging on the shuttered doors.

A few minutes later, he ran exuberantly from the narrow alleyways into the wide open Western Wall Plaza. He jumped for joy, as a soldier looked at him with condescension and said, sarcastically, “You just conquered the Kotel!”

Thirty years later, the memory of being caught up in something bigger than himself still lingers. Thirty years later, he still cannot completely eliminate the thought of banging on those metal doors at three in the morning. Today, the memory of something that felt transcendent now feels shameful.

Thirty years later — to the day — he is thinking less about Jerusalem, and more about his son, who just today was sent to the Lebanese border in a tank. He is no longer filled with joy, but with apprehension. Wars are no longer won in six days.

Thirty years later, he thinks about the valiant, brave soldiers who fight against the modern day Nazis of Hamas, charging into battle in order to allow him and his family to live peacefully. He no longer imagines that conquering the Western Wall is as easy as running through abandoned Old City streets at three o’clock in the morning.

Thirty years later, he hears some of his children talk about the possibility of renewing Israeli settlement in Gaza, and he remembers his 23-year-old self who would likely have agreed. He listens to some Israeli politicians use similar language: “War!” they exclaim to thunderous applause, and it sounds to him like a 23-year-old who never grew up, who never internalized the concept of nuance, who does not differentiate between simple and simplistic solutions.

Thirty years later, he knows that his faith in God is stronger now than it was in 1994 — and it also is less simplistic. His love for the People is greater, his love for the Land is more intense… and it is more complicated. Simple solutions are simplistic and usually reductionist, perhaps even foolhardy. The world is complicated, and until God intervenes, no answer is perfect. God is simple, but His manifestation in the physical and spiritual universes is breathtakingly complex.

The discovery, the internalization, that the God Who hides beyond the edge of the greatest mystery is found in nuance rather than in slogans, in complexity rather than in simplicity, in depth rather than in shallow waters, is, he believes, indicative of maturity, of growing up.

Thirty years later, he thinks that he has grown up.

Thirty years later, he wishes that others would, too.

About the Author
Rabbi Scott Kahn is the CEO of Jewish Coffee House ( and the host of the Orthodox Conundrum Podcast and co-host of Intimate Judaism. You can see more of his writing at
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