Next week, beginning immediately after Shabbat on May 19 and continuing through sundown the next day, Jews the world over outside Israel will studiously avoid acknowledging, much less celebrating, Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, the day in 5727 that Jewish history changed forever.
Some Jews, of course, will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, but quietly, unobtrusively, “so the neighbors shouldn’t see and shouldn’t know, God forbid.”
Some others will celebrate the day openly and with great joy, although some of them will do so for the wrong reasons.
Yom Yerushalayim is not just another day. In some ways, it is more important even than Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day. The importance of what happened that day 45 years ago is immeasurable. It was the greatest affirmation to date of the most remarkable miracle of all – the miracle of Jewish survival. We came through three millennia of persistent persecution and now, within the walls of “the old city,” we walked freely and with unbridled joy along the narrow streets of what was and is the eternal symbol of out salvation. Once again, we were in charge of our own destiny. Being able to sun ourselves in Caesarea or stand atop the ruins of Masada do not even come close.
“This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem,” Defense Minister Moshe Dayan declared that afternoon – June 7, 1967, on the secular calendar. “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.”
We forget today – or we choose to forget – what came before that day. For 19 years, Jews had no access to their holiest sites. What today is a sprawling complex in front of the majestic Western Wall was a side street strewn with garbage in total contempt for a people and their faith.
Under Jordanian rule, one could look out from the front of the International Hotel on the Mount of Olives and see how Jewish gravestones were turned into paving stones by Arab officials who saw hatred of the Jew as the best way to keep the Arab masses in check. Making the Jew the enemy was the easiest way to avert the attention of the city’s masses from just how miserable their lives were and how their own leaders profited at their expense.
Walk some yards away from the International Hotel back then in the direction of the Temple Mount, and you would even see – if you knew where to look – Jewish gravestones being used as latrine covers.
It was with such things in mind that Dayan also said on that day:
“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.”
Israel was true to its word. The holy places of every religion were protected. Access to the holy places of each religion was granted to the faithful – in the beginning, before suicide bombers and car bombs and intifadas forced security to supercede democracy. Even then, denied access was never permanent.
No holy places were looted, as Jewish holy places had been in 1949 after the Mandelbaum Gate slammed shut in our faces. No sacred objects were turned into latrine covers or paving stones.
The Arab response to Dayan’s – and Israel’s – outstretched hand, as they enunciated it in the Khartoum resolution of September 1967, was clear and unambiguous: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.”
Today, Yom Yerushalayim is an embarrassment for too many Jews, because, they believe, Jerusalem stands in the way of “peace” with the Arabs. It is an embarrassment because Jerusalem is as holy to the Arabs as it is to us and just as significant.
Well, it is not. When we prayed “next year in Jerusalem,” we meant the city within the walls, not without, and throughout the centuries we never abandoned that city. It was a Jewish majority that resided there all the way to the beginning of the 20th century, long before their existed a “west Jerusalem” outside the walls.
Arabs did not see Jerusalem (al Quds, as they call it) as particularly holy – certainly not on a par with Mecca or Medina; Mohammed took care of that just 16 years after he established Medina as his home base. Jerusalem always stood a distant third. It grew in importance only after the British gave the Hashemite clan charge of Jerusalem. It was the booby prize the British handed the Hashemites – a clan that was founded by Mohammed’s great-grandfather – after helping to kick them out of Arabia and removing them from the stewardship of Mecca and Medina – a stewardship that went back to the founding of Islam itself.
None of this excuses Israeli excesses, illegal land grabs, or in-your-face provocations, all of which have occurred, and for shame for that. They do not, however, change the fact that Jerusalem – the real Jerusalem, the Jerusalem of our prayers, and our hopes, and our dreams, the ultimate symbol of our survival – is in Jewish hands and must forever remain so. This is not something about which we must hide our heads in shame. It is cause for dancing in the streets and fervent prayers in our synagogues.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. On Yom Yerushalayim, be proud, be very proud. And, if you are religious in any way, be very grateful to a God who keeps His word.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May they prosper who love youâ€¦.For the sake of my brothers and of my friends, I say now. ‘Peace be within you.'”