Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day)

Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day)

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

On the third day of the Sixth Day War the words “the Temple Mount is in our hands” rang out in Israel and echoed throughout the Jewish world from the voice of then Colonel Motta Gur, commander of the paratroop force that had entered and liberated the Old City of Jerusalem. For the first time since the Romans captured the city in 70 C.E. the remnants of the Jewish Temple was in Jewish hands.  It was a moment which millions of Jews of all religious stripes and persuasions have never forgotten. The famous photographs of that day are indelibly etched into the memory of those who lived through that period or have absorbed the history; Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, Chief of Staff General Yitzchak Rabin, and Commander of the Central Region General Uzi Narkiss marching into the Old City following the blowing of the shofar by the then Chief Chaplain of the IDF Rabbi Shlomo Goren announcing the liberation of the Western Wall.

This Sunday which is the commemoration of that day on the Jewish calendar (28th of Iyar–June 7, 1967) will mark the 45th anniversary of what has become known as Jerusalem Day. In fact, since June 28, 1967, within weeks of the conclusion of the Six Day War, all of Jerusalem was united and incorporated into one entity.  The status of a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty has been one of the absolute non-negotiable issues in all Israeli Governments’ peace discussions with any and all Palestinian leaders. (In fact, however, while in principle it is indeed non-negotiable, in fact many Israeli political leaders and scholars have always suspected that if Israel and the Palestinians could develop an agreement on all the other issues, a modus vivendi could be developed to share or include a shared arrangement over the Old City and East Jerusalem.)

There is a contemporary reality, however, to Jerusalem Day which points to one of the fundamental social problems deep-seated in today’s Israeli society. This day is commemorated actively only by the religious Zionist community and the settler movement. Jerusalem and all the political and demographic issues which have developed over construction and ownership of property in East Jerusalem have clearly soured the excitement about Jerusalem which thrives so deeply in the minds and thoughts of the modern, religious, Orthodox Jews.  Secular Jews and the ultra-Orthodox communities—for very different reasons—do not have the same attachment and expressive feeling about Jerusalem; they make no effort to celebrate this day.

For the haredi community their non-celebration of the day is connected to their religious/political position vis-à-vis the very creation of State, absent the advent of Messianic times. For the secular Jews, however, their alienation about celebrating this day, beyond genuine serious political reservations which many of them have, is a function of a very troubling education system. The education today in the secular schools fails to provide the non-religious communities with a proper course of study in Jewish history. While the secular founders of the State knew and even imbibed Judaism and Jewish history–some in Europe and many in their homes in Palestine and then Israel—most of today’s secular leaders, to say nothing of their children, have a very limited and transitory knowledge of Jewish history. The emotional and religious attachment which their forbearers held for Jerusalem is absent, at least in part because the education system did not instill it in them and their parents and families did not foster it.

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