Yom Yerushalayim is the Israeli national holiday celebrating the reunification of the Holy City of Jerusalem, following the June, 1967 Six Day War. For many observant Jews, Yom Yerushalayim is a religious holiday as well as a national one.
CENTRALITY OF JERUSALEM TO JUDAISM
This year was only the second time Israelis could celebrate Yom Yerushalayim with the full recognition by the U.S. government that, indeed, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
President Donald Trump proclaimed that official recognition on Dec. 6, 2017. At that time Trump also announced the U.S. would move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv – which has never been Israel’s capital – to Jerusalem, which has been the center of Judaism since the time of King David in the tenth century BCE.
Israel is the only country in the world which is not “allowed” by the international community to name its own capital. Most of the rest of the world treats Tel Aviv as if it is Jerusalem’s capital, or ignores the issue altogether.
Jerusalem is so central to the Jewish religion that wherever they are in the world, Jews face towards Jerusalem to pray. Three times a day, when observant Jews pray, they ask God: “To Jerusalem Your city return in mercy, and dwell in it as You have promised.” And when saying grace after meals Jews say, “and rebuild Jerusalem, the holy city, speedily and in our days.” Jews have prayed with those words for millennia.
The Jewish holiday of Passover is celebrated with a traditional service that incorporates a meal. It is called a “seder” and is what Jesus was celebrating in The Last Supper. At the conclusion of the seder, ever since Jews were expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans in the year 70 CE, they recite the incantation: “Next Year in Jerusalem!”
This year Yom Yerushalayim was another scorching hot day but that didn’t stop the crowds from teeming into the capital for the celebration. The main event begins with a parade in the middle of town which then marches through the streets to the Western Wall in the Old City where singing, dancing and festivities peak. This is called “Rikud Degalim,” or Dance of the flags.
Prior to the 1967 war, Jordan illegally controlled the Old City of Jerusalem since 1948, when the surrounding Arab nations attacked Israel, the reborn Jewish state. During its period of control over Jerusalem, Jordan systematically destroyed synagogues and desecrated ancient Jewish cemeteries.
Despite Israel’s defeat of Jordan in 1967, Israel granted the Jordanians control over daily operations at the Temple Mount, where Judaism’s central site, the Temple, was located. To this day Jewish worship is forbidden on the Temple Mount, a prohibition that is rigorously enforced by both Arab and Israeli police. In fact, non-Muslims are only permitted on the Temple Mount on specific days during the week.
REUNIFICATION OF JERUSALEM IN 1967
When Israel retook the Old City the Commander of Israel’s fighting force told the fighters:
“For 2,000 years the Temple Mount was off limits to the Jews. Until you, the paratroopers, came and returned it to the bosom of its people. The Western Wall, towards which every Jewish heart beats, is again in our hands. Many Jews risked their lives, over our very long history, to come to Jerusalem and to reside in it. An infinite number of wistful poems have expressed the profound desire for Jerusalem that beats in every Jewish heart. During the War of Liberation incredible efforts were made to reclaim the heart of the people – the Old City and the Western Wall.
To you has fallen the great privilege to complete the circle, to give back to the people its eternal capital and its sacred center. Many paratroopers, our finest and most veteran comrades, fell in this terrible battle. It was a rapid and ferocious battle. In it you functioned as one body that crushed anything that stood in your way without concern for your own injuries. You did not gripe, you did not complain, you did not report, you just advanced and conquered.”
This year Yom Yerushalayim coincided with the month-long Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Jews are usually barred from the Temple Mount during the entire month of Ramadan.
When Israeli police announced that Jews would be permitted to ascend the Temple Mount this year on Yom Yerushalayim, reversing an earlier announcement, Arabs began rioting in protest against the permission granted to the Jews.
The rioters threw chairs, tables and other sharp objects at the police. According to media outlets, the riots began before any Jews ascended the Temple Mount. Police eventually quieted the violence without causing any injuries.
On Sunday evening at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin spoke of the Jewish people’s hope for peace amongst all the communities of Jerusalem. “My dear friends,” Rivlin said, “we must make sure that all the government ministries are located in the city and make an effort to build an area where the future embassies will stand, but above all we must unite Jerusalem and do everything possible so that the different communities living and working in it will know each other and live here together. Happy Yom Yerushalayim! Happy holiday, Jerusalem!”