Jerusalem—The culmination of our three-day-plus celebration of Yom Yerushalayim 2017 took place on the spot where 52 years earlier, in November 1965, my Machon Gold friends and I went shopping for the souvenirs we would bring home to our families after spending only six months in Yerushalayim. We headed for Esther Zeitz, now an upscale ladies’ clothing boutique, and purchased embroidered “tichels” for our mothers. Then we proceeded to Supersol, the one fancy supermarket in Yerushalayim at the time, to purchase some familiar American foods.
Fast forward 52 years to a city hosting the 50th anniversary of its blessed unification among throngs of flag-bearing youth from youth movements, yeshivot, ulpanot, mechina (pre-army) programs and thousands of enthusiastic marchers and onlookers. Along the route from the Mashbir to the Kotel down Agnon, to the live music of eclectic bands along the way, individual groups of dancers formed in circular formations to their own songs of jubilation. One unique and particularly lively group was from Indonesia. Dressed in their native colorful costumes and feathery headdresses, they were as fervent in their celebration of the day as were the Jewish celebrants. We felt truly privileged to be among the spectators, surrounded by family and friends.
Our celebration began the previous Thursday evening when we attended a concert at the Chibah Hall on Rechov Shimoni in Yerushalayim. A community center run by the Sephardic community, the evening featured Uzi Dayan, the nephew of Moshe Dayan, himself a retired general, who offered a brief history of the Six-Day War and his projections on the 50 years to come. Following his presentation, we were treated to a nostalgic evening of song by Shuli Natan, who as a young soldier was the first to sing the memorable Yerushalayim Shel Zahav composed by Naomi Shemer for the Israeli Song Festival where it took first place. The song, composed before the Six-Day War, went on to become the anthem of the war after being expanded to relay the highlights of the battles. Shuli Natan, now 70+, charming and talented, regaled us with classic songs of the first yishuv to which the assembled sang along. She finished off with Carlebach and Chasidic melodies to the enthusiasm of all.
The following Monday evening we were treated to the opening of the World Mizrachi gathering at Binyanei Ha’uma. More than 3,000 assembled for the event, including a significant number of Teaneckers, to celebrate 50 years of Yerushalayim. Flashing beams of colorful lights, booming music and a particularly lively audience made for a feeling of true chag. Minister Naftali Bennett was joined by American Governor Mike Huckabee in greeting the crowd with uplifting words of optimism and praise for the City of Gold. Tributes were paid to the three veteran paratroopers who liberated the Kotel, famous for their iconic photograph, who in turn bestowed blessings upon three young men soon to enter the IDF. Lone soldiers were touted as were retired generals and personalities within the government. Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Chagit Moshe, herself a Dati Leumi, expressed words of welcome and pride to the enthusiastic audience.
Then came the moment when Yaakov Shweky, to an uproarious reception, took the stage and the evening. From his initial entry to his last selection, the crowd was on its feet in song and dance. From his English lyrics dedicated to special children to his proud tributes to Am Yisrael, we were all put into true celebratory mode for the momentous occasion.
Tuesday evening, the eve of Yom Yerushalayim, hosted many Tefillot Chagigit throughout the city. We attended a tefillah led by Aharon Razel at a beit knesset in Har Nof. The celebratory tunes and communal recitation of Tehillim lent a feeling of achdut to the assembled who were Israeli, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, locals and visitors from abroad. After the tefillot, a program featuring descendents of “heroes of Jerusalem” as well as the heroes themselves was presented. The son of Harav Shlomo Goren spoke of his father’s momentous capture of the city. The daughter of Harav Goetz, z”l, former rav of the Kotel and holy sites, told of her father’s sleepless nights praying for and seeking out those in need in the city. Rabbi Benji Levine spoke of his memorable visits with his grandfather, Harav Aryeh Levin, rav of the prisoners, who gave chizuk to those imprisoned by the British in local and distant jails. Harav Yisrael Ariel, founder of Machon HaMikdash, inspired us with his optimism and genuine belief in the need for us to prepare the keilim for the Beit Hamikdash and renew our knowledge of the rituals surrounding these keilim so that we will be prepared for the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days.
Our personal celebration included a visit to Givat Hatachmoshet, one of the fiercest battle sites of the Six-Day War. The visitors’ center has expanded its exhibitions to include a circular hall with the photographs and artifacts of the fallen soldiers, to celebrate their lives before their ultimate sacrifice. We also managed to climb to the summit of Castel, the strategic fortress that was captured to allow convoys of trucks to deliver food to besieged Jerusalem during the war.
Other events we attended throughout the week included a reception by Mayor Nir Barkat on the walls of Migdal David, and a tour of the Jerusalem Municipality and the breathtaking 360-degree view of Yerushalayim from its porches.
Driving throughout the streets of Yerushalayim this past week, adorned with festive blue-and-white lights, in awe of the modern, futuristic structures going up in every available corner, filled with natives of all stripes and foreigners of all nations, we felt truly blessed to be part of the milestone celebration of this glorious city.
By Pearl Markovitz