On Tuesday evening, May 23, people from across he Greater Washington area gathered at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, to celebrate the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem.
B’nai Tzedek’s Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt pulled together a broad-based coalition of 11 co-sponsoring organizations for the event. “When it was brought to my attention that the greater Washington Jewish community had not planned anything to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem, I felt it was important to have an event for the community to mark the occasion.”
In his opening remarks, Rabbi Weinblatt reminded the over 200 assembled participants of the threats to wipe out Israel and the precarious situation Israel faced in June of 1967. When Israel was less than 20 years old, and a little more than 20 years after the Holocaust, hospital beds and body bags were prepared as troops and tanks from the nations surrounding Israel converged on her borders with the expressed intent of destroying the Jewish state and its inhabitants.
He reminded people that the centrality of Jerusalem was affirmed by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, who said in 1949, “Jerusalem is an organic and inseparable part of the state of Israel, as it is an inseparable part of the history and religion of Israel and the soul of our people.”
Rabbi Weinblatt also quoted Moshe Dayan and Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, who extended hands in peace and friendship to Muslims and Christians once Jerusalem had been reunited and the war was over. These stirring words at the outset set the tone of the evening as the crowd watched videos of footage of the battle for Jerusalem and of the modern Jerusalem of today.
People were asked to stand and share memories of the war. Rabbi Weinblatt shared a vivid memory from his youth:
“Jews around the world opened their hearts and their wallets. I remember my parents attending a mass rally hastily put together at the Pikesville Armory in Baltimore with thousands of people on the second night of the war to express solidarity with Israel. People bought Israel bonds in record numbers and generously donated to the [United Jewish Appeal] (UJA), with many heartwarming stories of people bringing money saved and set aside to buy a house or a car — all of which seemed insignificant in light of the threat Israel was facing.”
Samy Ymar was a young man in his twenties when he, like so many other Israeli men at the time, was called up to protect his country. After 50 years, he spoke for the first time about his experiences during the war. With tears in his eyes, he shared the fear of battle and then thankfully the joy of returning home on erev Shavuot to his family who did not even know if he had survived the battle.
Also speaking was Yaron Gamburg, minister of Public Information of the Embassy of Israel, as well as Congressman Eliot Engel, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Participants joined in singing psalms from the festive Hallel service led by Cantor Josh Perlman of B’nai Israel, as well as ancient and modern songs about Jerusalem. These included what has become the hymn of the Golden City, Nomi Shemer’s “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.”
The program concluded with “Hatikvah” and a prayer for Israel followed by food, literature, and more singing. Many expressed how pleased they were to attend a program that allowed them to celebrate and to stand in solidarity with the people of Israel on this special occasion.
The event was co-sponsored by B’nai Tzedek, the Embassy of Israel, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, JCRC of Greater Washington, American Zionist Movement, Israel Forever Foundation, CAMERA, EMET, AJC, and IAC.
As North America Director of the Israel Forever Foundation, Heidi Krizer Daroff enjoys sharing her love of Israel with communities near and far.
By Heidi Krizer Daroff