May 27, 2024
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Experiencing Yom Yerushalayim In Jerusalem

Today is the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar, Yom Yerushalayim. Fifty-one years ago, as a result of the Six-Day War, the city of Jerusalem and its holy sites were once again in Jewish hands. For the first time since the War of Independence, when the Kotel HaMaaravi (the Western Wall) fell into Jordanian hands, Jews and Christians were once again allowed the freedom to pray at the ancient holy sites. As part of the armistice agreement of 1948, the Old City of Jerusalem, which was captured by the Jordanians, was supposed to be an international city—open to prayer for all religions. I guess the Jordanians didn’t get that memo. I vividly remember the events that led to the Six-Day War, and the anguish we felt as we listened to the reports of the battles. Media then was not as it is today. The reports we were getting were several hours old. I remember standing with Shlomo Carlebach (z”l) on the wall at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza near the U.N. as we and a few hundred of us listened to the reports of the battle for Jerusalem. It was late at night and we had been camped out for days to show our support and collect money in support of our fellow Jews in Israel. Finally, after many harrowing hours, we heard the words of General Mota Gur: “Har Habayit beyadeinu,” the Temple Mount is in our hands. The jubilation that followed was unbelievable. Hundreds of us—most of us were still in high school then—dancing and singing. But it was a bittersweet moment, as we heard of the casualties, young Jewish soldiers who lost their lives, many in hand-to-hand combat, in the victory of the Old City and the unification of our ancient capital.

I had the zechut, merit, of joining more than a thousand of my co-religionists this morning for a festive davening at the Kotel. The crowd was made up mostly of young (compared to me) yeshiva students, as well as older men. In all of the times I had davened at the Kotel, I never experienced the crush of humanity davening together.

There were people in suits, people in T-shirts, Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Chinese Jews, Philippine Jews, Ethiopians, Spanish, French Jews. The chazan was heard through a loudspeaker, and the tefillah was the most joyous and meaningful I have ever experienced. Birkat Kohanim, the priestly blessing, was given by dozens of kohanim. I pictured in my mind what Birkat Kohanim must have been like in the Temple. That was followed by a jubilant Hallel that took more than a half hour to recite. The dancing and singing was something I had never experienced. You could feel the tile floor of the plaza in front of the Kotel shaking. The emotions that ran through me as I davened ran the gamut from thoughts of what happened 51 years ago, to the feeling that I was in the midst of an almost-out-of-body experience. I commented to my wife, after we left the plaza, that I wasn’t sure if I could ever daven again, since I could never reach the heights of emotion and kavanah, intent, as I did this morning.

We made our way back to the center of “modern” Jerusalem. We decided we would hang out on Ben Yehuda Street, the pedestrian street off of King George Street. We got to Ben Yehuda a little after 11 a.m. and were greeted by hundreds of teenage students celebrating the day. Galgalatz, one of Israel’s pre-eminent radio stations, was broadcasting live from the street. Adding to the euphoria was the fact that Neta Barzilai, a young Israeli singer, had taken first place in the prestigious EuroVision song contest the night before. The entire country was on an unbelievable high.

But all of this was just a preview of what was to come on Monday: The long-awaited move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. Excitement was running high in anticipation of the festivities, and the arrival of the American delegation, led by Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, as well as many members of Congress and various other dignitaries. As we rode the bus to the Kotel and back on Sunday there were U.S. flags flying from all the light poles. The Supreme Court building was draped with huge Israeli and American flags. Many places also had posters that read “Thank You, Mr. Trump,” and similar thoughts and expressions of thanks.

It is now Monday in Israel, and you can feel the excitement in the air. Streets in Jerusalem are blocked off and there is a heavy police presence everywhere.
The newspapers over the weekend were warning of expected terror attacks in the city and an escalation of the violence in Gaza.

The ceremony of the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem was by invitation only, so I had to watch the proceedings on TV, as I am sure thousands of others did as well. The program was to start at 4 p.m. (Israel time) sharp. Israelis are not used to starting anything on time, so one could say this was another first for Israel. The broadcast began around 3:30 as we listened to the commentators explain what to expect, and as we watched the dignitaries find their seats. We tried to see how many we could identify, and we did pretty well. The program began with the presentation of the colors by the U.S. Marines color guard, and was followed by the singing of the U.S. national anthem. (I was a little disappointed that Hatikvah was not sung, but I understood why.) Ambassador David Friedman served as the host and emcee for the event. Speakers included Israel’s President Reuven (Ruby) Rivlin, Jared Kushner, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Pastor John Hagee and songs by Chagit, the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants. President Trump was unable to attend, but sent a video greeting.

All the speakers made a point of saying that President Trump did what he promised during his run for the presidency. “He kept his word!” The speakers also stressed the strong relationship between Israel and the U.S., and that for modern-day Israel’s 70 years of existence it was the only nation whose capital was not recognized by the community of nations, and that Donald Trump promised to change that, and he did.

On a bit of a personal note, it was reported in the local papers that Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman warned the Israeli citizens not to be so euphoric over the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He said that the move “will come with a heavy price.”

It has been rumored that part of the deal was that Israel would have to cede sovereignty over some areas that were not expected to be given up by Israel to the Palestinian Authority, and that the U.S. would be pressuring Israel to make additional concessions to Abbas.

The tone of today’s speeches left some wiggle room, saying that the Palestinians would have to do their part as well, and that the U.S. would not allow a one-sided negotiation.

Let’s hope that today’s event ushers in an era of peace for Israel and the entire region.

By Rabbi Steve Roth

 Rabbi Roth hails from Brooklyn and was ordained in 1972 by the Brooklyn Rabbinical Seminary. He has been a resident of Passaic for the past 46 years. He was the founding rabbi of Congregation Eitz Chaim in Passaic, where he served for 20 years and from where he retired eight years ago. He and his wife of over 47 years, Fern, currently live in Boynton Beach, Florida, and spend time in Israel, Baltimore and Teaneck visiting their children. They have three children and 13 grandchildren.

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