What Is Jerusalem Day (Yom Yerushalayim)?
Every year, Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, is celebrated on the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar (six weeks after the Passover seder, and one week before Shavuot) in recognition of the great miracles and events that led to the reunification of Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem thousands of years earlier had sent the Jewish people into exile. When Jerusalem was liberated in 1967 following the Six-Day War, it was the first time in thousands of years that all of Jerusalem was under Jewish sovereignty. Therefore, the reunification of Jerusalem calls for a joyous celebration.
The holiday is one of four Jewish holidays that was added to the Jewish calendar in the 20th century (the others are Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day).
David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, declared: “The value of Jerusalem cannot be measured, weighed, or put into words. If a land has a soul, Jerusalem is the soul of the Land of Israel.”
Jerusalem has always been at the center of the Jewish faith. Both Holy Temples stood in Jerusalem, and it is in Jerusalem that Jews have celebrated their most joyous occasions and marked their most tragic moments.
Jerusalem Is God’s Holy City
According to Jewish tradition, Jerusalem was designated as holy from the beginning of time. Jewish tradition teaches a number of key biblical events all took place at what was to be the future site of this city: Adam was created in Jerusalem; Cain and Abel came to offer their first sacrifices to God in Jerusalem; Noah rebuilt the altar to God and offered his own sacrifices after surviving the Great Flood in Jerusalem.
But it wasn’t until 1000 BCE that Jerusalem became Israel’s official capital city after King David was finally able to conquer the city and declare it Israel’s capital, changing the course of history forever.
Prior to King David’s rule, every judge or king of Israel had ruled from his or her tribal territory. David reigned in Hebron, part of Judah, for seven years. Then he did five things that would change everything. He captured Jerusalem, moved to Jerusalem (marking it as the capital of Israel), brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, bought a specific threshing floor in a particular place as directed by the prophet Gad, and built an altar there. That location was later to become the site of the Holy Temple. In short, David established Jerusalem as the eternal physical and spiritual capital of Israel.
Designated to Be Holy
One of the reasons King David chose Jerusalem is because Jewish oral tradition taught of Jerusalem’s holiness and significance to God. In Judaism, “holiness” means to be designated by God for a particular purpose. So Jerusalem, as God’s Holy City, is an entire place designated to play a critical role in God’s master plan. The people, the places, and the events that happened in Jerusalem all served the goal of bringing godliness into the world.
In ancient times, Jerusalem was centrally located, making it accessible to all tribes and all foreigners who would come to worship the one true God. As we read in Ezekiel 5:5, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.”
King David called Jerusalem “a city that is bound firmly together” (Psalm 122:3 ESV). The Jewish sages explained this description related not to the physical structure of the city, but to the nature of its inhabitants. Jerusalem is intended to be a city that connects people and brings strangers together.
An Eternal Capital
King David established Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel. He legally purchased the site of the Temple. Indeed, Jerusalem, chosen by God, is the holiest place in the world. And the Temple to be built there would serve as His earthly conduit, making it possible for God to dwell among His people. His presence would be more readily and intensely experienced there than in any other place.
The Jewish people never forfeited their right to Jerusalem or the Temple. They never left willingly but only in chains, while thousands upon thousands gave their lives for Jerusalem. Between the time that the Romans conquered Jerusalem and the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE until June of 1967, Jerusalem was a divided city. Jerusalem had been torn from the fabric of the Jewish faith and tradition, like a heart out of a body. For centuries, Jerusalem had been conquered by different nations, each one imposing religious restrictions on the next.
Still, over the centuries of exile, Jerusalem was never forgotten and always remained the Jews’ spiritual capital.
The Six-Day War
Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 secured Israel’s statehood. However, even though the Jewish people finally had ownership of Israel, they lost something very meaningful: Jerusalem. The heart and soul of the Jewish people was split in two — West Jerusalem belonging to the fledging Jewish State, and East Jerusalem including the Old City, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount placed under Jordanian control.
Then six miraculous days in June changed all that when Israel unexpectedly, and definitely as a result of Divine Providence, reunited Jerusalem for the first time in almost 2,000 years.
This defining moment in Jewish history was the Six-Day War of 1967, following escalating tensions between Israel and her neighboring Arab countries.
War Was Imminent
For months, Israel’s neighbors had engaged in hostile, provocative acts toward the Jewish state, accompanied by equally hostile, provocative rhetoric. Egypt sent troops into the Sinai, and blockaded the Straits of Tiran, cutting one of Israel’s key shipping routes. Egyptian president Nasser made his intentions clear: “This is our chance, Arabs,” he thundered, “to deal Israel a mortal blow of annihilation.” The president of Iraq echoed his words, saying, “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified.” Syria’s defense minister said, “the time has come to begin a battle of annihilation.”
Israel realized her very existence was at stake. She could sit and wait for her enemies to attack. Or, she could send her armies in self-defense against the hostile forces surrounding her. She chose the latter course.
On the morning of June 5, 1967, the entire Israeli air force struck at Egyptian airfields while Egyptian pilots were still eating breakfast. It was a brilliant move – within hours, hundreds of Egyptian planes were destroyed. Similar attacks were launched against Jordan and Syria, crippling their air forces. Israel then concentrated on fighting Arab forces on the ground, winning numerous victories. Six days later, Israel accepted an offer of cease-fire from her enemies.
A Stunning Victory
The Six-Day War was a stunning victory for the Jewish state. Israeli forces gained control of Gaza and Sinai from Egypt, Judea and Samaria (comprising the West Bank territories) from Jordan, and the Golan Heights from Syria. The Holy City of Jerusalem, divided since the founding of the modern state of Israel in 1948, was at last united under Israeli rule.
It not only was a stunning victory, but as many believe, a miraculous one.
Firstly, Israel was completely outnumbered and outgunned. The enemy had twice as many soldiers, three times as many planes, and four times as many tanks. But when Egypt realized that they were under attack, they did not shoot at the Israeli planes. Two planes carrying the top commanders of Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq were airborne at the time, and there were strict orders not to launch any antiaircraft missiles which could have otherwise destroyed the attacking Israeli planes because they could also mistakenly down the aircraft of these important commanders. Instead, Israel managed to eliminate more than half the Egyptian air force in less than an hour.
There are many more examples of inexplicable events that occurred to bring Israel out on top. By June 11th, six days after the conflict had started, Israel had tripled her territory, and most importantly, reclaimed Jerusalem. And the Jews of Israel were able to go to the Western Wall for the first time in 19 years, under Jewish rule for the first time in two millennia.
Celebrating Jerusalem Day
Today, Jerusalem Day, Yom Yerushalayim, is an Israeli national holiday celebrating God’s Holy City, and His miracles that reunified Jerusalem after the June 1967 Six-Day War. The day was named a religious holiday in recent years by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and is marked by Israeli state ceremonies and memorial services. The day is celebrated with special prayers, pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and a general outpouring of gratitude to God for this miracle that the people of Israel will never take for granted.
On this special day, thousands of people in Israel march around the city all the way to the Western Wall (Kotel), the holiest site in His Holy City that surrounds Temple Mount. After everyone makes their way to the Western Wall, there are speeches, concerts, and dancing. Jews gather to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, to thank God for the miracles that He has wrought in our times, and resolve to never let Jerusalem be divided again.
Seek Peace for Jerusalem
In the familiar words of Psalm 122:6, we are to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Literally translated from the original Hebrew, the verse reads, “Ask about the peace of Jerusalem.” The rabbis explain that we must inquire about Jerusalem because when a person cares about something, they ask about its welfare.
Jewish tradition teaches that we must care about Jerusalem, pray for Jerusalem, and overall, desire Jerusalem. When we do, Jerusalem will not only be God’s Holy City, but our Holy City, too. If we seek it, we shall find it and bask in God’s glory.
The psalmist wrote, “If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy” (Psalm 137:5-6). This passage of scripture expresses beautifully the longing of the Jewish people for their ancestral capital. Today, we thank God that longing has been realized.