There has been quite a bit of verbiage written and spoken in the last weeks and days leading up to Jerusalem Day, or Yom Yerushalayim in Hebrew, a national holiday in Israel. The holiday is a joyous event that honors and celebrates the reunification of the Old City of Jerusalem after the Six Day War in June 1967. It is a day of great festivity, political speeches, back balcony barbeques and time with family and friends.
On a personal note, David and I were in Israel on this day in 1988, still on our honeymoon. We had an apartment on King George Street, just a few buildings down from Jaffa Road which was, at that time, one of the main thoroughfares into the city. It was a hot night and my new husband was unable to sleep so he had been up reading when he heard a loud noise from the street below. He came into the bedroom and told me he was going to go see what was going on as he couldn’t tell if it was a celebration or trouble.
I quickly jumped out of bed, pulled on some clothes and said, “I’m going with you.” Not knowing the situation, I didn’t want to take any chances on something being wrong and our not being together.
We rushed down the four flights of stairs and onto King George Street. We looked to our right and saw the action was happening on Jaffa Road so we walked there to check it out. We were amazed at the number of young people, tons of them, all carrying Israeli flags, singing and dancing as they made their way toward the Old City about a half a mile from where we were standing.
Not really understanding what was happening but being caught up in the excitement, we joined the throng and marched with them toward the Old City. The crowd continued to grow as more and more people – of all ages now – joined in the march. The joy was palpable as they sang and danced. We didn’t know what they were singing but we knew enough to understand it was a celebration.
We were now caught in the midst of the crowd as we made our way through the streets of the Old City. It was well after midnight, actually into the early hours of the morning, when shop keepers are at home in bed dreaming of success with crowds flocking into their shops. It felt odd to see the shops closed and only an occasional naked bulb lighting our way. We weren’t sure where the march would end up but we knew the Old City well enough to know we were heading to the Kotel – the Western Wall. And, the closer we got to the wall the louder the singing became as absolute joy overtook the throng.
We wove through the maze of streets until we came to the steps that opened up onto the plaza of the Kotel. As quickly as we could, we found a way out of the pressing crowed and moved toward a lower retaining wall where we could watch the singing and dancing as the marchers pushed closer and closer to the sacred Western Wall. We loved it. We sensed the joy they were experiencing without the understanding of the reason for it.
The next morning, we learned that it is the custom for youth, from all parts of the country, to march toward Jerusalem and the Old City in recognition and celebration of that day in 1967 when the Old City was, once again, fully in the hands of Jews for the first time in centuries. We were thrilled that we had been a part of the event, even though we had not understood the significance at the time it was happening.
Now, thirty-four years later, they are still celebrating the reunification of the Old City of Jerusalem and we join them in that celebration, no matter where we are or how busy our personal schedules may be. We love the fact that Jerusalem IS Jewish, that it is in the hands of Jews, as ordained by God and through His grace and mercy may it always be such. Am Israel Chai.