It was the summer of 1966. After over 10 years of active participation in a Zionist Youth movement (Habonim) in South Africa, my husband Lionel and I had finally realized our dream. We had arrived in Israel.
Before we got involved in study and work, Lionel and I sought to explore our newly adopted country. Now was our opportunity to actually see the places we had heard about over the years as we studied Jewish and Zionist history.
The first place we wanted to see and explore was Jerusalem and all it represented.
However, as Jews in 1966, we could not go to the most important historic places in Jerusalem, including the Kotel – the Western Wall of the ancient Temple Mount, where Jews had prayed for centuries. Jews were barred from entering the Old City.
Jerusalem had been a divided city since 1948. After the British relinquished their United Nations (UN) mandate to rule what was then called Palestine, the UN decided that Palestine was to be divided in two, a Jewish and an Arab state.
Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948, and five Arab countries lead by Egypt immediately invaded Israel. Despite fierce fighting, Israel was not able to hold onto the Old City of Jerusalem.
After a cease-fire was signed in 1948, the Old City was annexed and controlled by Jordan. Jordan banned all Jews from entering.
Outside the ancient city walls of Jerusalem lay no-man’s-land. A barren area of barbed wire and landmines lay between the old walls and the new Jewish quarters of Western Jerusalem. From the ramparts, Jordanian snipers trained their rifles on the Jewish residents of the city. The area around the Old City was not a place to visit or tour.
We took a guided tour to Ramat Rachel, a kibbutz on a hill in southern Jerusalem almost totally surrounded by Jordan. It was the only place where we could go in 1966 to view the whole city of Jerusalem. We peered through binoculars to try to get a glimpse of the ancient city walls, knowing that even if we could not see any details, somewhere in the distance within those walls was the Kotel.
Then the miracle happened. On 28th day of the month of Iyar in the year 5727, known to most of the world as June 7th, 1967, on the third day of the Six Day War, the Israel Defense Forces recaptured the Old City and its sacred places. Jerusalem was reunited under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 2000 years.
That was the first Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). We celebrated the occasion with tears and full hearts.
I have spent much of my life studying and teaching Judaism and Zionism and explaining it to both Jews and non-Jews. The concept that being a Jew is not simply a religion, but that Jewishness encompasses peoplehood, a homeland, customs and a way of life, is not well understood.
Over the centuries, historic events have resulted in the Jewish world adding the rabbinic holidays of Hanukkah and Purim. The modern Jewish world has added Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) along with Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day); Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day). These holidays celebrate or commemorate the historic occasions of our time.
The miracle of Yom Yerushalayim will always be one of them.
Hadassah, the Zionist organization I am affiliated with, is pulling out all the stops to celebrate the 55th anniversary of Jerusalem Day on June 1st. For Hadassah, Jerusalem Day not only marks the reunification of Jerusalem, but it also marks the time when our hospital on Mount Scopus was returned to us. As Jerusalem has grown over the years, between Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem and Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus, we are now able to serve all the people of Jerusalem, regardless of race, religion or nationality.
Hadassah and Jerusalem: United Forever – a Yom Yerushalayim celebration, livestreaming on Wednesday, June 1, 8-9 PM (EST), commemorating the 55th anniversary of the reunification of both East and West Jerusalem and of Hadassah’s two hospitals – Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in West Jerusalem, and Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem. For more information, visit here.