|Israeli paratroopers upon entering Jerusalem in ‘67 and seeing the Kotel|
I can’t let this day go by without mention of Yom Yerushalayim. Today is the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem and the return of Har Habayis – the Temple mount into Jewish hands. The first time that has happened in the 2000 years since the destruction of the 2nd Temple. There is not a Jew in the world whose Judaism means anything to them that does not understand the significance of this day. Or at least they should if they don’t.
Without getting to wordy, the Temple Mount was where the Beis HaMikdash – our Holy Temple was located. This is where God’s ‘presence’ (the Shechinah) rested. This is where the Kohanim - Jewish priests descendant of Aaron served God and offered sacrifices on the alter. Many of which were offered to atone for the sins of the people, without which says the Torah, there cannot be full atonement.
(How we deal with this issue today is beyond the scope of this post. Why we still cannot do so even though we are now proprietors of the sole area where sacrifices to God may be offered is also beyond the scope of this post. I mention it only to try and illustrate why this day is such a significant one to the Jewish people. I did not say Tachanun on this morining for this reason. As was the case with many Jews all over the world.)
I will never forget that day in June of 1967 - 50 years ago when the 6 day war broke out. It was a time that shocked the world. It was a time when just prior to it a lot of people were predicting the end of the Jewish State. Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser had been threatening for years that he would someday drive the Jews into the sea. He finally tried to implement that threat 19 years after Israel declared its independence - winning a war declared against her by all surrounding Arab nations upon the UN’s partition of Palestine.
Long story short, in 1967 Israel won a lightening war against her Arab neighbors in 6 days – retaking the entire West Bank of the Jordan River… an area that included East Jerusalem, the Kotel and the Temple Mount. I get a chill up and done my spine when I think of General Motta Gur’s declaration upon entering the old city saying ‘Har HaBayis B’yadenu’ (the temple mount is in our hands). As I do every time I see the iconic image (above) of those first soldiers entering the old city and looking up at the Kotel.
Those were heady days. Israelis were all of the sudden darlings of the media. Their military prowess was extolled by American generals with great admiration for their strategies and tactics. The image of the Israeli soldier was heroic. Israeli pilots were described as the best in the world. Religious Jews all over the world were talking about the miracles that happened during those 6 days of war.
To say I was proud is an understatement. Never was I so proud to be wearing a kipa in public!
It is now 50 years later. Instead of being the darlings of the media, Israel is now seen as occupiers of an indigenous population of Palestinians who under it’s thumb are being oppressed. Instead of talking about Israel’s military prowess, they are talking about Israel as an Apartheid state. The UN under the influence of Arab nations has condemned Israel a countless number of times and Europe has been their willing accomplices in that goal.
And what about Har Habayis? It’s hard to feel like it is ‘in our hands’ when it is controlled by Muslim clerics and only Muslims are allowed to pray there. Further complicating matters is the fact that Israel has already shown its hand about Jerusalem’s future. Despite current assurances by Israel’s leaders that Jerusalem will never be divided again - that all of it will forever remain in Jewish hands… Palestinians know that under the right governing coalition they will get East Jerusalem (which contains Har HaByis) as part of any peace deal.
I am a realist about this and would even support it - if it would truly end the bloodshed; with Israel remaining a Jewish state with secure borders; which are recognized by the entire world. I know this is not a popular view among many of my friends. But I stand by it.
If that does not turn out to be the case… and all of Jerusalem would somehow remain in Jewish hands as part of a final peace deal, no one will be happier than I would be about it. I hope that happens. But I doubt that it will.
It would not be a happy occasion for me if Jewish sovereignty over Har Habayis would be ceded to Palestinians. It would make me quite sad in fact. But if that’s the price of ending the bloodshed, my sadness comes second.
Until then, I choose to celebrate the return of Jerusalem into Jewish hands as I recall the glory of the past. Who knows? Maybe it will stay that way.