I see three reasons to rejoice today:
First of all, we do not only celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem. We also celebrate the rescue of Tel Aviv. Those who were here during the days before the outbreak of the Six Days War can tell you: The very existence of the young State of Israel was in danger in 1967. Our 19-year-old country was not only saved; it grew several times in size and returned to the biblical areas of the Land of Israel.
Second, because it is the fulfillment of a dream. Nobel Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel once said that Jerusalem connects people to each other in a mysterious, inexplicable way. “When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time,” he says, “it is a homecoming.” A friend of mine, a new Olah from Ethiopia, told me years ago how, as a child in Addis Ababa, every time she and her siblings saw a stork flying in the sky they used to cry to it: “Stork, stork, how is Jerusalem doing?”
Natan Sharansky once said that when he was convicted together with his friends of treason against “Mother Russia,” they were asked by the court to sum up their defense arguments. Sharansky responded: “I have nothing to say to this court, but to the People of Israel and to my wife I say: Next year in Jerusalem.” We are living the fulfillment of a 2,000-year-old prophecy.
Third and most importantly, we are happy today because of the enormity of the present challenge, because of the great opportunity we have been given in our generation, of all generations. We won the lottery, and now, what do we do with this prize? Our mission is to turn all this energy, all the ancient oaths and yearnings and prayers, which are thousands of years old — into something practical, to make the Heavenly Jerusalem (ירושלים של מעלה) and the Earthly Jerusalem (ירושלים של מטה) united, to make sure that this place will indeed herald an alternative society to the whole world. We’re on our way there.
Chana Zemer, editor of the Davar newspaper (a famous secular newspaper, closed in 1996), wrote in the newspaper after our soldiers reached the Western Wall: “ובא לציון גואל. Redemption has come to Zion. For two thousand years — eighty generations — the Jews turned to the East: during every prayer, Shacharit, Minchah and Ma’ariv. Thousands of years have not blurred the national memory with which a Jew is born, just as he is born with all of his bodily organs. All the biblical verses are coming alive in front of our very eyes.”
People do not write like this in newspapers anymore, and yet we must never forget that the great great grandparents of all of us could never have imagined that they would ever merit to pay the Arnona city tax in Jerusalem, get stuck in traffic jams there, and also to quarrel and argue about its character.
We have had the great fortune to do so.