The Gift and the Challenge of Yom Yerushalayim

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As we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, I reflect on what makes me grateful for the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967.

First, Yom Yerushalayim commemorates witnessing modern miracles. Miracles are often seen as statistical improbabilities, and their interpretation varies. Yet, 1967 was extraordinary. Numerous "coincidences" and improbabilities led to Jerusalem's capture.

The Six-Day War began because Egyptian President Nasser acted on false Soviet reports of Israeli troops amassing on the Syrian border. This led him to expel the UN force from Gaza and Sinai, move troops, and close the Tiran Straits—acts of war. Had Russia not misled Egypt, events might have unfolded differently. When Israel launched its surprise attack on June 5th, Egypt's air defenses were down as Commander Abdel Amer, in flight, had ordered a ceasefire on anti-aircraft missiles to protect his plane. Additionally, a Jordanian radar officer detected the unusual aircraft movement but a coding error due to frequency changes kept Egypt unaware. Coincidences abounded that morning, including Egyptian air force officers being unprepared due to a wild party the night before.

Egypt misled Jordan about their military success, prompting Jordan to attack Israel, securing Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria for Israel. False reports of an Egyptian victory also convinced Syria to join the war, leading to Israel’s capture of the Golan Heights. The 1967 war was seen as miraculous, even by secular Jews like Yitzchak Rabin, who named it the Six-Day War, echoing the six days of creation.

Yom Yerushalayim also celebrates the opportunities a united Jerusalem offers. During Prime Minister Netanyahu's first term, some in President Clinton’s administration challenged Israel's right to build in Jerusalem. In a critical meeting, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright threatened to withdraw US support in the UN if construction continued. She told Netanyahu that he did not need to give an immediate response; he had three days in which to consult with his advisors and formulate his response.  Netanyahu replied without a moment’s delay, and told Albright, “I don’t need three days. My answer is in the negative. We will not negotiate over Jerusalem, our eternal capital, and we will continue to build in it.” Netanyahu firmly refused to negotiate over Jerusalem, maintaining it as Israel’s eternal capital. The US ultimately respected this stance.

Rav Yakov Medan commented that Netanyahu’s firm response was in stark contrast to Rabbi Amnon of Mainz's story in "Unetaneh Tokef," who suffered greatly for merely appearing to consider converting to Christianity for three days. Netanyahu, however, refused to even feign negotiation over Jerusalem. We pray daily for Jerusalem's rebuilding, and Yom Yerushalayim celebrates the chance to rebuild our historic capital.

Additionally, Yom Yerushalayim honors Jerusalem’s role in uniting the Jewish people. King David established Jerusalem as the capital 3,000 years ago, choosing a city that straddled the tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin, fostering unity. This unity that is reflected in the city of Jerusalem manifests itself during the shalosh regalim, the three holidays of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.  In ancient times, the Jews were divided into two religious classes, the chaverim, those who were careful about ritual purity and the amei ha’aretz, those who weren’t so careful.  Generally, a chaver would refrain from contact with the am ha’aretz and his property for fear of contracting ritual impurity.  However, during the shalosh regalim, these halachic restrictions were relaxed and all Jews were considered equally trustworthy in halachic matters. Today, Yom Yerushalayim reminds us of the spiritual center that unites our nation and the religious value of unity and halachic flexibility for the sake of unity that Jerusalem represents.

As we celebrate, let us be thankful for witnessing God’s hand in our times and recognize the opportunities this brings—to rebuild Jerusalem and to embody the unity it symbolizes.