I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”
Our feet are standing
in your gates, Jerusalem. — Psalm 122:1–2
This year, Jerusalem Day begins at sundown on May 16th and continues through May 17th.
For the Jewish people, springtime is bustling with celebrations, including Passover and Shavuot. Yet, nestled among these biblical festivities are other important days that were added to the Jewish calendar in more recent history, including Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day. However, while everyone loves a reason to celebrate, why is it necessary to have two days that mark the reemergence of the people of Israel in the land of Israel?
The simplest answer is that Independence Day and Jerusalem Day mark two different time periods and two different miracles. In 1948, Israel was established by what can be seen as a miraculous vote by the United Nations. However, that decision also set off a series of battles that badly wounded the new state, and one of the casualties was the city of Jerusalem. As part of the terms that settled the conflict, Jerusalem was divided into two parts — the western part of the city was given to Israel, and the eastern part of Jerusalem, including the Old City, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, was under Jordanian rule. Israel survived her birth, but was hardly whole.
Nineteen years later, another miracle happened. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel fought a war that it seemed destined to lose. In fact, it’s been reported that just before war officially broke out, Israelis were already digging graves for what was expected to be a bloody and deadly war. Yet, against all odds, Israel prevailed. And as battles were being won on many fronts, the idea surfaced that perhaps, just maybe, it would be possible to reclaim Jerusalem – and indeed Israel did.
So on the surface, these two days were established because they mark two very significant events. Yet, on a deeper level, the reunification of Jerusalem represents an entirely different type of victory than the establishment of the Jewish state. As David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister explained, Jerusalem is the heart of Israel. On Jerusalem Day, we celebrate the fact that we were once again joined with the heart of our nation.
No matter how many times I watch the footage of the liberation of Jerusalem, I still get emotional. We can see and hear Colonel Motta Gur announce plans to enter the Old City of Jerusalem. We can witness the Israel Defense Forces entering through Lion’s Gate. And finally, the famous words are spoken by Gur: “The Temple Mount is in our hands.” For the first time in thousands of years, Jewish sovereignty returned to our original and eternal Capital.
I invite you all to celebrate Jerusalem Day with us this year. Celebrate by praying for the peace of Jerusalem. Celebrate by thanking God for the miracles that He has wrought in our times. And celebrate by standing resolved to never let her be divided ever again. The heart of Israel must remain whole.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President