From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
In 2016, we were in Jerusalem on “Jerusalem Day,” the day that commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. Defeating the Jordanians, who held the city for 19 years, was an amazing feat. Today, famous photos recall the victory that welcomed Jews back to the Old City and to the Western Wall, once known as the Wailing Wall. From HonestReporting.com, “[D]uring the 19-year Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem, Jews had been banned from their holiest places. When it gained control over this part of Jerusalem, the Israeli government introduced the freedom to worship for everyone in the holy city.”
Watching from our hotel room windows above the street that day, I remember the sight of thousands of people marching down the narrow street waving Israeli flags and singing Hebrew songs. The narrow street looked like a rushing river of people aiming for the Old City gates. The headlines we read in Israel reported on the excitement and memories that brought the Jewish people together after a terrible war in 1967. Not only did the victorious war reunite Jerusalem, but it also had a unifying effect on world Jewry.
This year, we were not in Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day, but my memories took me back to that window and the excitement that rushed by us. Sadly, the headlines in America reported on the behavior of Jews who offended and threatened Muslims in the Arab quarter. I have no doubt that in a crowd of thousands, there were some Jews who made a bad name for themselves by feeding the media what they often misreport about Israel. But there were also thousands of other Jews who marched and celebrated on Jerusalem Day, shouting and singing about victory and heroism. We didn’t hear as much about them.
Though Israel is a complicated place, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as it is. Golda Meir, Israel’s fourth prime minister, once said, “If Palestinians laid down their arms there would be peace; if Israel laid down their arms there would be no Israel.” For one day, Israelis celebrate their freedom, and every day they pray as they wish at the holiest site in Judaism after nearly two thousand years of exile, and only 55 years since the reunification of Jerusalem. When I’m in Israel, I’m still in awe when I see Israeli flags waving in the air atop a building or along the streets. On Jerusalem Day, Israel Independence Day, or any other day, Israelis fly the flag of Israel as a proud symbol of every hope and dream of every generation that ever longed for Israel.
“Am Yisrael Chai,” the Jewish people lives, thrives, and celebrates its well-earned victories in its ancient, modern, and sovereign homeland. As we learn from Psalm 122, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” and celebrate in it for the miracle that it is.
Jerusalem Day 2016 approaching King David Street on the way to the Old City