Sunday, June 5, 2016, was Jerusalem Day.

Prof. Miriam Elman had a write up on the significance of Jerusalem Day and the liberation of the Old City, Jerusalem Reunited 1967: Three Israeli Soldiers, One Iconic Photo.

Soldiers at Western Wall Then and Now

The Israeli national holiday celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, after part of the city including the Old City, was under illegal Jordanian occupation since the 1949 Armistice Agreement was signed after Arab armies failed to destroy Israel in its War of Independence.

Jerusalem Day is a very nationalistic holiday, similar to our July 4th Independence Day, with flags displayed almost everywhere.

Tens of thousands of people stream into the city for the march towards the the Western Wall (the “Kotel”).

Many of the marchers enter through the Damascus Gate into and through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. In the past there have been incidents as the Jewish marchers passed through the Muslim Quarter (with each side blaming the other for the problems); the Muslims view it as a provocation, and the Jews view it as an expression of Israeli sovereignty. This year, according to news reports, there were no problems.

We were taking a tour of the Kotel Tunnels late in the afternoon. We timed it so we would exit near the Damascus Gate right around the time the marchers would enter the Muslim Quarter, about 6:15 p.m. However, as we reached the end of the tour, we were told that the Israeli Border Police had closed the exit from the Kotel Tunnels at the Damascus Gate for security reasons, so we had to reverse our path and exit from where we started, the covered entrance to the tunnel complex.

This is what we saw as we exited the tunnel tour entrance onto the Kotel plaza at about 6:30 p.m.:

For the next hour tens of thousands more people would stream from many directions onto the Plaza. The road leading down to the plaza from our hotel (The Sephardic House in the Jewish Quarter) seemed to be reserved mostly for women and girls. The road was completely packed for an hour with many thousands of female marchers entering the plaza. This photo doesn’t quite do justice to just how packed the roadway was for most of the time:

Jerusalem Day 2016 - Women walking to Western Wall

By 7:30, the Kotel Plaza was jam-packed, well beyond the usual security screening check points which were abandoned for the night.

Jerusalem Day 2016 - Western Wall Plaza Dusk

Jerusalem Day and the crowd at the Western Wall stood in stark contrast to how we spent the morning — at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center.

Yad Vashem Main Hall

The center was rebuilt a little over a decade ago and looked nothing like I remembered when I last visited over 30 years ago.

My favorite part still is the pathway of the Righteous Among Nations, honoring “Righteous Gentiles” who risked or gave their lives to save Jews during the war. It is a testament to the existence of good even in a time of such evil.

We previously wrote about one such person, American Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds – a Righteous Among the Nations.

US Army Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds Yad Vashem

There were many plaques along the path. Here are just three of them, picked at random.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to research them, but if readers were to do so and post the links, that would honor their memory. Righteous Among Nations Karla Andelova Weiss

Righteous Amond Nations Natalia Tomczak

Righteous Among Nations Kleopatra Polowska

Unfortunately, later in the evening I found out that I will have to cut my trip short because of a worsening illness at home. So as of now I will leave at the end of this week, after less than a week in Israel, eliminating completely my planned trip to the Lebanese and Syrian border communities, and Tel Aviv almost completely.

Barring further developments, my speech in Tel Aviv Thursday night still will happen. [Update – Speech canceled, I’m flying home immediately.]