“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! If I do not remember you, let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth—if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Ps. 137:5–6).
On Yom Yerushalayim, there are hundreds, maybe even thousands of Israeli flags—being waved by young men dancing in the streets or draped like capes over the shoulders of these exuberant Israelis. The joy of this day cannot be contained as Israel celebrates the liberation and reunification of their eternal city, Jerusalem.
In the land where most national holidays are based on the prescribed feasts found in the Torah, Yom Yerushalayim is a recent addition. Originally designated as a symbolic holiday in 1968 to recognize and celebrate the momentous reunification, it became an official holiday when the Knesset passed the “Jerusalem Day Law” in 1998. Yom Yerushalayim is celebrated on the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar (May 28 this year) with events that include memorial services for those who died in the battle, a public reception by the mayor of Jerusalem, a parade and lots of singing and dancing. It has become a tradition for many Israelis to travel “up to Jerusalem” on this day, some even making the journey on foot.
The joy has not come without a price. After David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the Jewish state on May 14, 1948, the nation was immediately thrown into war. When the cease-fire was declared ten months later, Israel had lost 6,373 lives, nearly one percent of its population. The Jews in Jerusalem’s Old City had been driven out by the Jordanians, and for the next 19 years, Jews would be denied access to the Kotel, the Western Wall, one of the most revered sites in Judaism.
Then, on June 7, 1967, during the Six Day War, IDF paratroopers fought their way to the Wall and returned Jerusalem’s holiest site to Jewish control for the first time in 2,000 years. In the words of those who were there, we catch a glimpse of the awe of that day.
Commander Motta Gur, to his brigade upon their recapture of Jerusalem’s Old City: “For some two thousand years the Temple Mount was forbidden to the Jews…Endless words of longing have expressed the deep yearning for Jerusalem that beats within the Jewish heart. You have been given the great privilege of completing the circle, of returning to the nation its capital and its holy center…Jerusalem is yours forever.”
Chief of Staff Yitzchak Rabin: “I felt truly shaken and stood there murmuring a prayer for peace. Motta Gur’s paratroopers were struggling to reach the Wall and touch it. We stood among a tangle of rugged, battle-weary men who were unable to believe their eyes or restrain their emotions. Their eyes were moist with tears, their speech incoherent. The overwhelming desire was to cling to the Wall, to hold on to that great moment as long as possible.”
Hebrew author Elhanan Lewinsky (1857–1910) wrote, “Without Jerusalem, the land of Israel is a body without a soul.” Each time the national anthem, “Ha Tikvah,” is sung, the Jewish people remind themselves that the land and Jerusalem are inextricably linked. The final lines echo their heart’s cry, “…the hope of 2,000 years: to be a free people in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” Until the reunification of Jerusalem, they were not truly free.
“Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem! Jerusalem is built as a city that is compact together, where the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, to the Testimony of Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Lord” (Ps. 122:2–4)
Civilizations rise and fall, their capital cities losing importance during the ebb and flow of history. Jerusalem, however, is different. It is a city “set apart.” Nations have warred over it throughout the millennia. One of the oldest cities in the world, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times and captured/recaptured 44 times (Wikipedia). Today, the eyes of the world are still on this city, the heart of Judaism, which the Palestinians are claiming as the capital of their own proposed state.
Jerusalem has always had a place in God’s plan for His people. It first came under Israelite control c. 1000 BC when King David drove out the Jebusites who were living in that small fortified city. Under David’s reign, the city grew, and later, his son Solomon built the first Temple. Throughout the subsequent years, there were many battles over David’s royal city but, regardless of which country governed, a continuous Jewish presence remained.
Each year, many visitors come to Israel, and there are very few who omit the city of Jerusalem from their itineraries. Bridges for Peace, in collaboration with the Master’s International School of Divinity, has compiled a special Israel Tour Journal which contains information on 26 sites in Jerusalem as well as more than 70 other sites in the Land. We would like to share excerpts from two sites which specifically pertain to the defense of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem’s “elevation is remarkable…because it is set on the edge of one of the highest table-lands of the country” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). Surrounded on three sides by valleys and rough terrain, the city presented a formidable challenge to those who wanted to conquer her.
Not only did the valleys protect the city, they proclaimed God’s presence. “There is a fascinating thing about the valleys and mountains of Jerusalem. If you look at them from above on a satellite map, they create an interesting formation that looks like a letter of the Hebrew alphabet—the shin (ש). The shin is the first letter of the name of God—El Shaddai, that can be translated as the all-sufficient One. God said He would put His name in Jerusalem (2 Chron. 6:6a), and He has literally done that!” (Israel Tour Journal).
“King Hezekiah entreated the saving power of God to rescue his people and the city of Jerusalem from the threat of Sennacherib, king of Assyria and his vast army. Hezekiah turned to God in humble prayer, yet made preparations to resist the impending siege. With incredible ingenuity Hezekiah prepared for survival, and one of his most vital works was the creation of the 533 meter (1,750 ft) tunnel that would bring fresh water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam located inside the City of David. The actions of a righteous king saved both his city and his people when the God of Israel supernaturally and miraculously destroyed the Assyrian army in 701 BC” (Israel Tour Journal).
As Israelis dwell in their city throughout the year, and especially rejoice on Yom Yerushalayim, we invite you to join us as we also celebrate and thank God for His miraculous protection of, and provision for, His eternal city.
Source: By Janet Aslin, BFP Staff Writer
Photo Credit: Click on photo to see photo credit
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