This Sunday is Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day).

The newest addition to the Jewish calendar, it’s held on the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar—six weeks after the Passover seder and one week before the eve of the holiday of Shavuot.

In June 1967, 28 Iyar was the third day of the Six Day War.

Yom Yerushalayim celebrates the reunification of Israel’s capital city, when Jewish forces brought Jerusalem “back to Jewish sovereignty”.

In Israel the holiday is marked with pilgrimages to Jerusalem with thousands of Israelis heading to the city for the annual Flag Parade.

But in many Jewish communities Yom Yerushalayim typically passes without a lot of fanfare.

Many Jews haven’t even heard of it.

Partly, this is because of the holiday’s young age. Outside of Israel, there aren’t many customs and traditions associated with it (at my synagogue, we’ll be reciting Hallel—psalms of praise—and sharing a festive meal).

But MyJewishLearning notes another reason it isn’t observed extensively:

Yom Yerushalayim can make some politically liberal Jews outside of Israel uncomfortable, due to the continuing conflicts over the future of the city. Even some Jews who believe that the city should remain undivided and under Israel’s control choose not to emphasize Yom Yerushalayim as a day of joy because of the deeply emotional, violent, and controversial state of affairs surrounding the Arab portions of Jerusalem”.

It’s a shame.

Because Jerusalem Day deserves to be celebrated with pride and joy—openly and without reservation.

Why Celebrate Jerusalem Day?

REASON #1: Jewish holy places are liberated from an illegal Jordanian occupation.

In 1949 Jordan ethnically cleansed every last Jew from the ancient Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

Then, in a shameless violation of the April 1949 truce agreement, for nearly two decades it denied Jews the right to worship at the Western Wall—(a ban that also prevented Arab Israelis from visiting their mosques on the Haram al-Sharif).

The restrictions against the Jews were so severe that tourists who wanted to cross over from west Jerusalem into the Jordanian-controlled part of the city had to produce a baptismal certificate.

Israeli Paratroopers at Western Wall

 REASON #2: The whole city of Jerusalem is reclaimed and reunited under Israeli sovereignty.

On June 7, 1967, the third day of the Six Day War, the 55th Paratroopers Brigade received the order to take the Old City. Recounted by Sara Yoheved Rigler in

The paratroopers entered through Lions’ Gate. Much to their surprise, other than the occasional sniper fire, there was no resistance. The Jordanian forces had evacuated the night before. The Israeli troops, like a magnet, headed directly to the Temple Mount. The words of [Lt. Gen. Mordechai] Motta Gur, heard on radio in bunkers and bomb shelters and bases throughout Israel, would echo throughout modern Jewish history as the rallying cry of a vanquished-now-victorious people: ‘Har Habayit B’yadenu, the Temple Mount is in our hands!”.

 REASON #3: Jewish Jerusalem is reconstituted.

The Jordanian authorities spent their nineteen year rule looting, ransacking, befouling, and dynamiting every last vestige of Jewish heritage.

As Marshall J. Breger of the Columbus School of Law, Catholic University of America and co-author of a seminal study on the city describes:

Twenty-seven synagogues and some thirty schools were damaged or destroyed. The Porath Yosef, Hurva, and Tiferet Israel synagogues were destroyed. The famous Yohanan ben Zakkai Synagogue was devastated from within and survived only as a shell. The synagogue founded by the great biblical scholar Nachmanides in 1267 was also devastated…the hallowed Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives suffered a similar fate…Graves ripped open, and bones scattered; thousands of tombstones smashed or removed by the Jordanian army to build fortifications, footpaths, army camps, and latrines…The Jewish Quarter was so thoroughly destroyed, according to news reporters, that it had the look of Stalingrad or Berlin in World War II”.

Israel’s been restoring these Jewish heritage sites since 1967.

Western Wall Jerusalem Daytime

 REASON #4: Jewish faithful have the legal right to pray on the Temple Mount.

Jewish visits to the Temple Mount have increased by 92% since 2009. According to new figures released in January, 10,906 Jews ascended the Temple Mount in 2014, up 28% from the 8,528 who visited the site in 2013.

Some 7,724 Jews visited the site in 2012; 8,247 in 2011; 5,792 in 2010; and 5,658 in 2009.

It’s something that a number of rabbinic authorities see as the Jewish people’s “spiritual awakening, and reconnecting—not only to their most holy site, but to their own destiny”.

REASON #5: Reaffirming a Jewish attachment to the holy city and to the land.

For nearly a century, and contrary to the writings of their own religious tradition, Arab Muslims have belittled, denied and denigrated Jerusalem’s Jewish past.

As noted by scholar Yitzhak Reiter, who has extensively researched the contemporary Muslim “denial of the Jewish Temple and Western Wall”:

Islamic nationalists, be they clerics, academics or politicians, seek to refute claims regarding Jerusalem’s centrality to Judaism; they deny the Jewish Temple’s existence in Jerusalem and assert that the Western Wall is not an authentic remnant of the Temple’s external supporting wall, but rather al-Aqsa compound’s western wall—the place identified today with al-Buraq, the amazing steed upon which Muhammad was borne to Jerusalem and which the Prophet is said to have tethered to the wall in question…the Arab-Muslim meta-narrative tries to deny any serious or long-lasting connection of Jews and Judaism to Jerusalem and the land.”

Yom Yerushalayim is an occasion to remind the world of the basic truths of Jewish heritage, and the historical sovereign legitimacy of the Jewish State.

Prior post: The Battle Over Jerusalem Day March.


Miriam F. Elman is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the co-editor of Jerusalem: Conflict and Cooperation in a Contested City, published last year by Syracuse University Press.


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