Last Sunday on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar (May 20), the Jewish world celebrated Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day. This holiday marks 45 years since Israel won control of the Old City in the Six-Day War of 1967 and reunited Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is my home in every imaginable way: I was born and raised here. I graduated from the Hebrew University and got married in Jerusalem. Today, Jerusalem is home to our Israeli branch of JCC Association. My great grandfather was born in Jerusalem in 1870. My grandfather was born in the Old City in 1896, and my father was born here in 1930.
Where were you 45 ago, when the capital of the Jewish world was united? Although just a baby, I was lucky to be in Jerusalem with my family at our neighbor’s apartment, which was safer than our own, hiding from Jordanian bullets.
Jerusalem is known for its special characters and stories. Growing up in Jerusalem granted me the opportunity to meet some of the city’s most prominent figures: I grew up in a small apartment house, not too far from the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Meah Shearim. Our neighbor was the Great Rabbi David Cohen (1887- 1972), also known as Rav Ha-Nazir. He was one of Jerusalem’s most famous and respected rabbis and the only ascetic in our generation. Rav Ha-Nazir vowed never to eat fish or meats, drink wine, cut his hair, or leave his apartment. (My family used to attend services at his home, since he didn’t even go to synagogue.)
On June 7, 1967, when Israeli paratroopers announced, “We got Temple Mount,” Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the Rav Ha-Nazir’s son-in-law, entered the Old City and walked to the Kotel after 19 years of occupation. He wanted the great Rav to accompany him, but the Rav had vowed never to leave his home. Three witnesses, including my father, were asked to bear witness to the breaking of oaths. My father accompanied both rabbis to the Kotel, where he stood next to Rabbi Goren as he blew a shofar and carried a Torah, leading the first Jewish prayer session at the Western Wall since 1948. This event was one of the defining moments of the Six Day War.
Since that first visit to the Kotel, every Rosh Chodesh, Rav Ha-Nazir invites three men to bear witness as he breaks his vow so that he can visit the Kotel. The Kotel is a symbol to millions of Jews throughout the world, a symbol of Jewish resistance, Jewish continuity, Jewish unity and Jewish triumph.
Two weeks ago, at the JCCs of North America Biennial, Avraham Infeld led a session on Jewish peoplehood, where he argued that Jews don’t have history, but memory. History is what happens in the past; memory is what connects that history with who we are today. The Kotel carries our memories, along with our dreams and hopes.
Leah Garber , Vice President, JCC Association Israel Office