This past week, we commemorated the victory of the Six Day War and the reunification of the Old City. Today, I’ll share a brief history of the events that led to Jerusalem Day.
After the War of Independence, which broke out due to the Arabs refusal to comply with the United Nations Partition Plan, the Jews ended up attaining more land than they would have received from the Partition Plan, but without East Jerusalem and the Old City, which was supposed to remain an international city and open to all. Under Jordanian rule, Jewish residents of the old city were kicked out, half of the Old City’s fifty-eight synagogues were demolished, and the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was plundered for its tombstones, which were used for building materials. Jerusalem became a divided city.
Nineteen years later on the 28th of Iyur or June 7th 1967, IDF paratroopers were successful in liberating the Old City of Jerusalem as a result of the Six Day War. Rav Goren, Cheif rabbi of the IDF, while holding a Sefer Torah in his hands, approached the Western Wall, sounded the shofer, and recited a blessing of thanksgiving and then a prayer for the fallen soldiers.
On that day, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan declared his famous quote: “This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour—and with added emphasis at this hour—our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights. We did not come to Jerusalem for the sake of other peoples’ holy places, and not to interfere with the adherents of other faiths, but in order to safeguard its entirety, and to live there together with others, in unity.” This was “…the first war in history which has ended with the victors suing for peace and the vanquished calling for unconditional surrender,” wrote Abba Eban, the minister of foreign affairs. The war ended with a ceasefire on June 11th.
One year later, the government proclaimed that the 28th of Iyur would become a national holiday and called Yom Yerushalaim/ Jerusalem Day. Jerusalem has, in fact, become a place for all people, drawing tourists from all over the world no matter their religion. However, there was somebody before Dayan, who believed it could be this way. Theodor Herzl, in his utopian novel, Altneuland, writes, “All the buildings served Christians Muslims and Jews alike. They stood next to one another in a row. The Old City had become an international site and served as a home for many peoples.”
As an Olah, I can attest to this reality. When walking through the old streets of Jerusalem, you meet people from all walks of life and hear all kinds of dialects. It is so beautiful to interact with different cultures and Jerusalem is serves as a unique hub for international connection. Happy Jerusalem day to everyone!
“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the true beauty and test of our civilization.”
– Mahatma Gandhi