Today, Sunday, as I write this, is the 28th day of Iyar. It is a rich historical day for many reasons. Firstly, it is the day on which Yehoshua led Israel into our first battle against Amaleik. Further, in Tanach, the 28th day of Iyar marks the day on which the Prophet Samuel, Shmuel HaNavi, departed our world. In more recent history, the 28th day of Iyar is remembered for the day on which HaRav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, made aliyah to then-Palestine, under British rule, and unified Jerusalem under Hebrew sovereignty, despite the very challenging situation on the ground.
And finally, for the last 52 years, we celebrate on the 28th day of Iyar Yom Yerushalayim – the last “Yom” in the emotional cycle of the special Yamim that occur between the period that starts with the celebration of our freedom from exile and slavery, and ends with the culminating moment where our nation was gifted with the eternal Torah.
Yerushalayim, Jerusalem, has a most significant meaning to all Jews, regardless of their level of religiosity or devotion to Zionism. Sadly, the day we celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem, Yom Yerushalayim, is not as widely observed and celebrated as it deserves to be.
Some rebuff it because they consider East Jerusalem “occupied” while others consider it a non-religious or a Zionist holiday. Unfortunately, these juxtaposed views emerged very soon after the liberation of Jerusalem, 49 years ago. The Army’s chief rabbi at the time, Rabbi Shlomo Goren z”l, blew the Shofar in a sign of proclamation of victory over the foreign rulers who have denied Jewish sovereignty over the Temple Mount and the Western Wall since Titus destroyed the Second Temple nearly two thousand years earlier. On the other hand, the Minister of Defense at the time, General Moshe Dayan, questioned the need for a Vatican in Jerusalem.
I believe that both sides (who refuse to celebrate this momentous day) err. Their ignorance is rooted in the lack of two fundamental understandings.
Firstly, Yom Yerushalayim should be observed as a Thanksgiving celebration for true and open miracles, given the historical and geopolitical climate at the time. The first and foremost goal of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was to prevent a handful of larger and better equipped enemy armies from accomplishing their express desire of annihilating the infant Jewish state in 1967. Our enemies’ goal was to finish Hitler’s job. Israel, at the time, had indefensible borders, and barely raised its first generation of Sabras who, for the most part, were the children of survivors and refugees from the Shoah and Europe.
Had Hashem limited his miracles merely to ensure the survival of the Jewish state and its inhabitants from this latest plan of our annihilation, we, religious and secular, would have had to praise him. Dayeinu.
If survival isn’t enough of a reason to celebrate, one must recognize that the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem, along with the liberation of other parts of our ancestral land, was absolutely unexpected. The IDF’s goal was never set on conquering and liberating parts of the biblical homeland. As it was viewed at the time, the IDF was challenged beyond its capabilities (so it seemed) in preventing the neighboring enemy armies from achieving superiority on land as well as in the seas and skies.
The Six-Day War was the clearest manifestation of Hashem’s generous and powerful hand in fulfilling a biblical promise. I can’t think of any other war that took place in the last 2,000 years that included so many open miracles, especially when looking at the aspect of time – only six days – a deep spiritual meaning in itself. In order to find a precedent in history for a war filled with so many obvious miracles, one would have to go back to the war waged by Joshua (son of Nun), when the sun stood still for him and his army.
What also shaped history was the profound determination and charismatic appeal voiced by then opposition leader Menachem Begin z”l, who recognized the unique moment in time and the spiritual window that this war of defense offered – to allow the IDF to go for the Old City. That his voice was heard was a miracle, too.
The century-long yearning of our tears and dreams to return to Jerusalem was realized by a battalion of courageous yet very different paratroopers. They fought fierce battles, in which both combating sides, ironically, were careful to not damage their respective landmarks, and in which way too many of our boys’ lives were sacrificed.
Yossi Klein Halevy compellingly depicts in his book, Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation, the life-paths of several commanders and soldiers who played an important role in the battle for Jerusalem and subsequently in Israeli society post-1967. The various characters are on different sides of the intellectual, religious, and political spectrum. The band ranges from young, well-learned, religious, and devout Zionists, capitalizing on this moment of liberation to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, to secular Kibbutznikim, of which one went so far as to join an anti-Zionist Marxist Arab movement in Syria.
Sadly, to this day both extremes are still on stage, and neither one of them celebrates this remarkable day.
On the one hand, we have groups of people who are incessantly preoccupied with democracy, human rights, and peace, but exclusively point at Israel for the misfortunes of the Palestinians. These people lack the intellectual honesty to admit that only a united Jerusalem, under Israel’s full control, can ensure that all faiths can freely worship and preserve their places of holiness.
On the other hand, and absent from the spectrum of soldiers who participated in the liberation of Jerusalem, are those people who consider themselves too pious and too learned to celebrate this awesome day. This is very disconcerting, especially when coming from people who should know better. For two reasons:
Firstly, it is because many of our prayers make reference to our return to Jerusalem. More specifically, the daily morning prayers include pleadings and blessings asking Hashem to return to Jerusalem and to rest within it. “Return with compassion to your city, Jerusalem, and rest within it as you have said, rebuild it speedily and in our days…” is the exact translated liturgy.
One may think that Hashem can return to His city whenever He so desires, regardless of our prayers. The Zohar explains that the Sh’chinah (Hashem’s presence) only returns to Jerusalem when we, on earth, return to Jerusalem.
In essence, the importance of the celebration is to mark the unique moment in which the holy location, where the optimal channel of communication between Hashem and His people takes place, was restored to His people.
Moreover, one may not disregard the fact that during the years that Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule, until 1967, close to 60 synagogues, including the Hurva, were destroyed. Numerous cemeteries, including the one on the Mount of Olives, were desecrated.
The return of these landmarks to the Jewish people, especially the Kosel HaMaaravi, the Western Wall, may not to be taken for granted – even more so in an era where the Waqf commits massive destruction in the vicinity of the Temple Mount in an effort to erase the evidence of our historical connection to the Temple Mount.
Secondly, one cannot remain blind to the fact that if, during the first 19 years of the existence of the State of Israel (1948-1967), the West (Europe and the US, both founded on Christian values and beliefs) was sympathetic to our cause, there was a radical change in their attitude and outlook towards Israel after the Six-Day War.
In the first 19 years of Israel’s existence, the West was at peace with the notion that the Jewish people had a small country, in essence nothing more than a flimsy bomb shelter, along the coast of the Mediterranean. It was a sliver of land that the “merciful” Christians believed they gave to the downtrodden Jews who found refuge in the Middle East after the Holocaust.
The Six-Day War, however, brought with it a most fundamental transformation that required Western civilization, however secular, to make a significant theological adjustment to their view of the Bible and the destiny of the Jewish people.
Suddenly, the man-made god of the Christians that the Jewish people rejected over the centuries, proved to be sidelined by Hashem. Out of nowhere and in no time, pivotal biblical places that are part of the cradle of civilization such as Chevron, Bet Lechem, and Shechem, in addition to Jerusalem, were in Jewish hands.
With the exception of the current US administration, it appears that Western civilization is unwilling or incapable to either digest or tolerate this historical and divine development. As we have seen over the last 49 years, the West spares no efforts to separate these important cities and areas from our land, while continuously shunning our eternal capital. Prior to the events of 1967, when the Jewish people only had a foothold on Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Haifa, and Hadera, Western civilization did not see in it a fulfillment of a biblical promise, and therefore they were able to live with the idea of a narrow and vulnerable Jewish state.
In a way, it is a war with Rome all over again. Think about the European-funded peace industry and the violent apartheid fests on US campuses. They don’t seek peace. They are aimed at erasing our presence in the Holy Land. Fortunately, this time, despite the enormous challenges and hate we are made to overcome and endure, we are blessed with an undeniable Divine protection. This deserves recognition, praise, and celebration.
It is only when all will unite in celebrating the significance of the liberation of Jerusalem that we may dream of the next step – freely praying on the Temple Mount – and gain uncontested recognition by all that Israel’s capital shall not be different from any other one – belonging to one people and one state only.
This column is dedicated to the memory and the upcoming 25th anniversary of the passing of Rav Shlomo Goren zt”l. Rav Goren founded and served as the first head of the Military Rabbinate of the Israel Defense Forces and subsequently as the third Chief Rabbi of Israel, from 1973 to 1983. Rav Goren’s work and devotion were unparalleled. Immediately after the Israeli War of Independence, he engaged, often at great personal risk, in the collecting of the bodies and giving proper burial to soldiers whose remains had been left in enemy fields. He also strongly opposed the idea of separate religious and secular units and worked for the integration of all soldiers in united army units, setting the framework for kosher food and rest on the holy day of Shabbat for all soldiers. He was the most prominent halachist involved in rulings for religious soldiers regarding their army service. May his memory be a blessing for the entire Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
Jacques R. Rothschild was born in Belgium and served as a unit commander in the IDF paratroopers. He graduated in Mathematics, Statistics, and International Affairs from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lives currently with his family in New York City where he works as an investment banker. He also writes and speaks publicly about current affairs and causes for which he cares deeply.