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Seared into our hearts is the un­for­get­table pic­ture of the young sol­diers at the Ko­tel (Western Wall) after it was lib­er­ated in June 1967. After 19 years of not hav­ing ac­cess to the Old City, the re­serve para­trooper bri­gade, led by Gen­eral Mordechai “Motta” Gur, broke through the Lion’s Gate and reached the Tem­ple Mount. His mo­men­tous procla­ma­tion, “Har Habayit b’yadeinu!”, “The Tem­ple Mount is in our hands!”, echoed through­out Is­rael, and in­deed the whole Jewish world.

Those were days of ex­hil­a­ra­tion, but also days of in­tense relief and grat­i­tude. It is that grat­i­tude to God that lies at the heart of why we cel­e­brate Yom Yerusha­layim (Jerusalem Day). It seemed that Is­rael was prob­a­bly go­ing to be dec­i­mated. Dur­ing the three weeks lead­ing up to the war, from Yom Ha’atzma’ut on May 15 to the start of the Six Day War on June 5, Is­rael and the Jews in ev­ery part of the world held their col­lec­tive breath as Is­rael’s neigh­bours pre­pared them­selves for bat­tle.

In six short days, rem­i­nis­cent of the creation of the world, Is­rael was victorious. Moshe Dayan, Is­rael’s De­fence Min­is­ter in 1967 and a self-pro­claimed athe­ist, fa­mously said at the time, “Yes­ter­day I was not a re­li­gious man, and to­mor­row I will not be, but to­day I can­not but say that we have wit­nessed mir­a­cles”.

Ezer Weiz­man, who had built the Is­raeli Air Force and was Head of Oper­a­tions dur­ing the war, said, “This is the fin­ger of God”. Yitzhak Rabin, at the time the Chief of Staff of the IDF, quoted from Psalm 118: “This is the day that God made; we shall ex­ult and re­joice in it.”

A few years ago I found my­self in Jerusalem on Yom Yerusha­layim for the first time in over 20 years. I re­mem­bered the dawn shacharit prayers at the Ko­tel, from the Shavuot ex­pe­ri­ences I had as a stu­dent. I woke up at 5.30 on the morn­ing of Yom Yerusha­layim and started walk­ing to the Ko­tel. Jerusalem with­out cars, just bird­song: per­fect.

I wound my way through the wide streets and the nar­row al­ley­ways, and then sud­denly the Ko­tel plaza was in view. Ex­u­ber­ant dav­en­ing reached my ears. Hal­lel was be­ing sung with feel­ing. Is­raeli flags were wav­ing in the morn­ing breeze. I felt priv­i­leged to be at that spe­cial place on such a mo­men­tous an­niver­sary.

Most of my hus­band’s im­me­di­ate fam­ily, in­clud­ing his par­ents, made Jerusalem their home after they made aliyah. My own jour­ney to Jerusalem was a lit­tle less straight­for­ward. As a teenager, I at­tended Bnei Akiva sum­mer camp near Cape Town. We all sang a song about a lit­tle bird whose “nest is Yerusha­layim, where we yearn to be once more”. It planted a seed in my head, and from that, my great love for Is­rael, es­pe­cially Jerusa- lem, sprouted. I went to live in Jerusalem in 1979, a few weeks after I fin­ished high school.

At that time, the Jewish Quar­ter of the Old City was still very much a build­ing site. My friends and I would make our way past the rub­ble to go to in­spir­ing shi­urim given by a young rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis.

I did a de­gree and learnt the lan­guage at the He­brew Univer­sity of Jerusalem, while putting down strong roots in the city. I even met my hus­band on a num­ber 19 Egged bus, as we made our way to a mu­tual friend’s wed­ding. Our first two chil­dren were born in Jerusalem.

Much like the phrase “Mother’s Day is ev­ery day”, liv­ing in Jerusalem back then felt like it was Yom Yerusha­layim ev­ery day. Te­hillim (Psalms), es­pe­cially Hal­lel, seem to have been com­posed with the fu­ture Yom Yerusha­layim in mind. The words of Psalm 116 par­tic­u­larly res­onate: “To You I shall bring a thanks­giv­ing-of­fer­ing.… I will ful­fil my vow to the Lord in the pres­ence of all His peo­ple, in the courts of the House of the Lord, in your midst, Yerusha­layim. Hal­leluyah.”

My hus­band Rabbi Baruch Davis, and I have served as a rab­binic cou­ple in Aus­tralia, and more re­cently in Eng­land, for nearly 30 years al­to­gether, yet our con­nec­tions with Jerusalem are as strong as ever. I am filled with love and nos­tal­gia when I re­visit. To­day, though, there is an added di­men­sion: we have mar­ried chil­dren who have made their homes in Jerusalem, just around the cor­ner from where I first lived out my ide­al­ism for the city.

The Jewish world and its borders changed in those fate­ful few days in June 1967. By the end of the Six Day War, the tiny fledg­ling state of Is­rael was three times its pre-war size. Her borders stretched from Mount Her­mon in the north to the Suez Canal in the south. Jerusalem, its re­uni­fied cen­tre, was un­der Jewish con­trol for the first time in 1,900 years. The mir­a­cles were on a na­tional level, with the hand of God plain for all to see.

Jerusalem is a city that can ex­ist in par­al­lel in our hearts and minds, just like a song that grounds you to where you cur­rently stand, but also has the abil­ity to trans­port you to where your heart wants to be. My nest is, in­deed, Yerusha­layim.

Nechama Davis is reb­bet­zin of Chig­well and Hain­ault Sy­n­a­gogue. This is an edited ex­tract from a new mach­zor, From Ex­ile to Redemp­tion, for Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron, Yom Ha’at­maut and Yom Yerusha­layim pub­lished by the United Sy­n­a­gogue and Koren, which is avail­able from www. us.org.uk/galut­to­geu­lah at £10

Jerusalem was un­der Jewish con­trol for the first time in 1,900 years


Yom Yerusha­layim, which be­gins on the evening of May 23, will mark the 50th an­niver­sary of Is­rael’s cap­ture of the Old City

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