(Photo: David Stein)

Yom Yerushalayim: A Reflection


I was born after 1967 and first visited Israel on my Bnei Akiva gap year in 1990, and so I have always personally experienced the Kotel as the heart of Jerusalem. Though of course I knew about the Six Day War and the fight to reunify the city, I took the experience of praying at the Kotel for granted.

All year long, we fulfill the mitzvah of zecher l’yetziat mitzrayim, of remembering that G-d took us out of Egypt. On Seder night, however, we fulfill a separate mitzvah of sippur yetziat mitzrayim, of telling the story of how we left Egypt. Why do we need two distinct mitzvot to recall the Exodus? Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat Har Etzion, explains that these mitzvot are actually distinct experiences. Zecher is the experience of remembering an event; it is merely a trigger, a reminder. Sippur, however, is the act of retelling the story of the event in great detail. As the author of the haggadah states, “the more one speaks about the story the more praiseworthy it is”. 

The same dichotomy applies to Yom Yerushalayim. Though it is important to remember the events of 1967, remembering the miracle is not enough. We must also tell the story of Yom Yerushalayim and study its history in order to fully appreciate the miracles of the Six Day War and the awesome gift of a unified Jerusalem.

Those who lived through the 19 years between 1948 and 1967, when the Old City was under Jordanian control and completely inaccessible to the Jewish people, remember the great pain of the separation. The inability to pray at the Kotel was a bitter blow for our people. But it’s important to realize that access to the Kotel was often restricted even in the years before 1948. Under the British Mandate, Jews were often forbidden from sitting on benches, putting up a mechitzah and blowing shofar at the Kotel – a crime for which Moshe Segal was arrested in 1930. Only after the Six Day War were our people completely free to pray there.

Yom Yerushalayim is the answer to generations of prayers. For millennia, we have prayed to return to Jerusalem. We asked Hashem to allow us to serve Him as we were meant to. We yearned to once again experience the aliyah l’regel, simchat beit hashoevah, korban pesach, and the service of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur.

In the sheva berachot recited at Jewish weddings, we reference Jerusalem twice. “May the barren one soon rejoice to see her children” and “may we soon hear the sound of joy in Jerusalem, the voice of the groom and his bride”. For centuries, these words were recited as a dream and a hope, a prayer for the future. Our great-grandparents, as they stood under their chuppot, closed their eyes and imagined what it would look like to see a rebuilt Jerusalem filled with the joyous image of Jewish children playing in the streets. Their dreams and prayers are now our reality. We recite the same blessings that they did, but today we hear and see their fulfillment.

The first time I realized this I was visiting the Jewish Quarter, watching the children play soccer. On the wall was an inscription from the prophet Zechariah, וּרְחֹבוֹת הָעִיר יִמָּלְאוּ יְלָדִים וִילָדוֹת מְשַׂחֲקִים בִּרְחֹבֹתֶיהָ, “the streets of the city will be filled with children playing” (Zechariah 8:5). It was unbelievable to see this prophecy come alive in front of my eyes. Later on I learned that the words had been inscribed on the wall by defenders of the Jewish Quarter as they were forced to lay down arms and were expelled from the Old City in 1948.This was their Hatikvah, their hope, that we would one day return. And so it was: 19 years later we came home, and the prayer and prophecy became a reality.

We pray for the day when Jerusalem will be whole and the Temple rebuilt. But to paraphrase the haggadah, if we only could go to Jerusalem and pray at the Kotel before the Temple Mount, that would be enough.

Yom Yerushalayim sameach!


Rabbi Paul Lewin is the Senior Rabbi of the North Shore Synagogue and the College Rabbi of Masada College.

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