Some one asked me a short while ago, "So how do you celebrate Yom Yerushalayim in Israel?" And then I realized that for the last 15 years or so, I have always spent Yom Yerushalayim in uniform.
My reserve paratroopers unit, now known as paratroopers reserve brigade #6’3, is the same unit that liberated and unified the city 40 years ago. The brigade then known as #55, but with the same logo, and led by the legendary Mordechai (Motta) Gur was the first IDF unit to enter the Old City, and earned the glory of being known as the liberators of Jerusalem.
Every Yom Yerushalayim, the officers gather in Jerusalem for a full day of activities and ceremonies. We start the morning with a lecture or a workshop at the Ammunition Hill auditorium, followed by a ceremony where the unit commander says farewell to the "elders" who have reached the age when they are excused from reserve duty.
At lunchtime, buses and cars from all over the country arrive, bringing the "unit veterans" the original officers who liberated Jerusalem in 1967. The idea is that all the officers, young and old, of the same sub-units walk the routes of the battles and the veterans tell their stories and traditions to the young officers. I always found it amusing, but very exciting, to see a group of fairly elderly people walking through the bunkers of Ammunition Hill, the narrow streets of East Jerusalem, and the alleyways of the Old City followed by a crowd of officers in their ‘0s listening with admiration, but also with looks of envy. These old warriors lost 100 of their friends during these battles, but they liberated Jerusalem and have found an eternal place in the history books.
After the battle route tours, all the groups get together for a ceremony at the memorial site of their own sub-units. Our unit battalion #8150 (in 1967 it was #’8) gets together in front of our memorial site, which is just outside the American consulate building in East Jerusalem. There we stand, old and young officers, commemorating the legends and the icons of our unit, passing on the tradition to the next generation and celebrating our eternal bond to our beloved city.
Many of my childhood memories are about Ammunition Hill. This famous battle site is where the paratroopers broke through the Jordanian line on June 5, 1967. It is now a beautiful park with tall pine trees, paved trails, and a picnic area and the bunkers and trenches have been preserved as part of the park.
Ammunition Hill is in the heart of my childhood neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol in Jerusalem, and in order for me to reach the school I attended for six years, I would cross the park twice a day, walking to school and back.
The park was also the main gathering place for all our youth movement activities. Our scout chapter, where I belonged from sixth grade until I graduated, met on Ammunition Hill every Tuesday and Shabbat afternoon.
Can you think of a better place for young scouts to meet? All the hours of playing in the trenches and the bunkers, sitting on the lawns listening to our counselors’ stories, exploring and discovering the small caverns and secrets of this hill .
In addition, Ammunition Hill was also the site where my high school’s track team practiced three times a week, so for four consecutive years, I used to circle the outer paths of the hill, completing the 1,500-meter distance, trying to improve my results, and participating in tournaments and races.
Every inch of this hill was explored by our young feet, in rain or shine. My friends and I spent endless hours walking, running, playing, hanging out on this site.
When I left Jerusalem I thought that this would be the end of my encounters with Ammunition Hill, but this did not happen. When I was serving in the paratroopers’ reserves, I found out that my unit is the exact unit that fought there in 1967. From the day I joined the unit I was called each year to visit Ammunition Hill on Yom Yerushalayim.
I have great respect for the soldiers who fought and died on Ammunition Hill, and I am grateful that they enabled my friends and I to grow up in the united city, and that their battlefield became a leisure area for generations of young Jerusalemites.
The 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem will be celebrated in our community on Wednesday, May 16, at 7 p.m. at Cong. Gesher Shalom/Fort Lee Jewish Center.
Please join us, show your support for Israel and Jerusalem.