When Israeli paratroopers entered the Old City of Jerusalem 50 years ago, how many of them could have imagined what Israel’s capital would look like in 2017?
Today, Jerusalem is a beautiful blend of contrasts that reflect the diversity of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole. It is home to holy sites and high tech firms, archaeology and modern art, eclectic neighbourhoods and vibrant nightlife. Perhaps nothing showcases the character of Jerusalem better than a short ride on the light-rail, where one encounters Orthodox Jews, women in hijabs, and Christian priests sitting side-by-side. Indeed, as home to the Knesset and the Supreme Court, Jerusalem is at the very core of Israel’s dual identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
In the days leading up to the Six Day War, who would have had the chutzpah to imagine such a future for Jerusalem? At the time, the eastern part of the city had been emptied of its Jewish residents for two decades, and hardly anyone visited. The city had essentially become a remote and vacant Jordanian outpost. Barbed wire laid by Jordanian forces prevented Jews from visiting their holy sites. Synagogues were either vandalized or destroyed. For the first time in its 3,000-year history, Jerusalem was divided. But for those 19 years between 1948 and 1967, the city had never been split.
Fifty years ago, Jerusalem was reunited under Jewish sovereignty – enabling it, once again, to be a beacon for freedom and peace for all peoples. In the years since, Jerusalem has continued to be a source of inspiration for billions worldwide. For Christians, Jerusalem is home to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; for Muslims, the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Yet no other nation throughout its long history has declared Jerusalem as its capital, seat of religious identity, or held the city in as special regard as the Jewish people have.
Jerusalem has been the beating heart of Jewish life for thousands of years. Jewish prayers from across the world are directed at the Temple Mount, home to two historic Jewish temples, of which only the Western Wall remains. Mentioned hundreds of times in the Bible, the city plays a central role in ceremonies of the Jewish people. The breaking of the glass – a ritual of Jewish weddings – symbolizes the destruction of the Jewish Temple some 2,000 years ago. I can’t help but imagine what my great-grandparents would think now that “next year in Jerusalem!” is such an achievable aspiration.
The reunification of the city was the fulfillment of the Jewish people’s yearning over millennia for a return to their spiritual and political capital.
Today, Jerusalem is united and thriving. The city’s holy sites are open to worshippers from all faiths, and moving from one area of the city to another is a seamless experience. As Jews around the world mark Yom Yerushalaim today, the reunification of Jerusalem, let us advance unity within our own communities.
Not just today, but every day, may we come together to celebrate the realization of this 2,000-year old dream. Please help us celebrate by sharing this video we created with our colleagues at the Israeli consulate in Toronto.
Yom Yerushalaim Sameach!
David J. Cape
Chair, The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs