Jerusalem — My Highest Joy

Yael Eckstein  |  May 24, 2022

People with Jewish flags celebrating Jerusalem Day

For thousands of years before celebrating Jerusalem Day, Jewish people have uttered the words: “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). We have prayed for our return to Jerusalem, and some Jews even attempted to restore Jewish Jerusalem over the centuries.

‘If I Forget You, Jerusalem’

Following the biblical words, the Jewish people did everything possible to make sure that Jerusalem would not be forgotten – traditions that continue to this day. Under the wedding canopy, every Jewish groom broke a glass to represent that, even at our most joyful moments, we remember. Every home had a wall that remained unfinished or a piece of art that represented Jerusalem. Every prayer from any Jewish person, anywhere in the world, was said facing Jerusalem. The Jewish people may have been separated in body from Jerusalem, but our souls were never separated.

Jerusalem Day celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem and the fulfillment of the Jewish dream. In Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, the Jordanians took most of Jerusalem, including all of the Old City and the Western Wall. Nineteen years later, Jerusalem was redeemed and reunified during the Six-Day War.

The Six-Day War of 1967

It was arguably one of the most miraculous wars in modern times. In 1967, tiny Israel defeated three invading Arab armies – the Jordanians, the Egyptians, and the Syrians. Israel was greatly outgunned and outmanned. It was a war that Israel did not want and did not think possible to win. Yet, Israel was gloriously triumphant. With the help of God, Israel not only defended her citizens, but also managed to regain what had been lost in 1948, including Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.

I can only imagine the joy in our country after the war in 1967. I have seen the celebratory pictures. I have heard the stories from my father-in-law who fought in the Six-Day War and joined thousands of Israelis on the first Shabbat that Jews were permitted to pray at the Western Wall. My mother visited Israel just three days after the war and also described the euphoric atmosphere in Jerusalem.

When celebrating Jerusalem Day, we give thanks to God for all those miracles. We praise God with songs and psalms. We renew our love for His Holy City and express gratitude for Jerusalem, which has expanded and progressed dramatically over the last fifty-two years.

And yet, every morning we Jews still pray that God will rebuild His Holy City. We still remind ourselves “If I forget you, Jerusalem…” We still leave a part of our houses unfinished and smash a glass under the wedding canopy.

‘A House of Prayer for All Nations’

We are so very grateful to be back in Jerusalem, to be a sovereign nation there for the first time in two thousand years. I spent the first six years after my aliyah (immigration to Israel) living in Jerusalem. Every morning I felt like pinching myself to make sure it wasn’t just a dream!

However, we dare not forget that the ultimate goal of the Jewish people is not only to live as a free people in Israel, with Jerusalem as our capital. The goal is rebuilding the Temple, something that is not yet possible. We are not complete until we see the full restoration of the city with the Third Temple and God’s presence in our midst.

Let us always remember that there is still work to be done. Let us continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And let us merit walking together hand in hand to the third Temple, “a house of prayer for all nations” (Isaiah 56:7).

With blessings from the Holy Land,

Yael Eckstein's Signature