Hundreds of songs and poems extolling Jerusalem have been written over the ages--and today, Yom Yerushalayim 5756, Jerusalem Day 2006, the day commemorating the 39th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem it seems as if they're all being sung and recited in honor of the city at the center of the Jewish world.
Last night, on stages set up in parks all over the city, the celebrations began with informal performances featuring Israel's most popular singers that drew thousands out on a warm late spring evening.
At formal and informal ceremonies marking Jerusalem Day, elected officials and just plain folk recite the words of Psalms, the writings of the prophets and modern day poets in praise of Jerusalem.
At the official ceremony on Ammunition Hill, the site of one of the fiercest battles of the Six Day War, both President Moshe Katzav and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert cite the ancient words of prayer for the peace and tranquility of Jerusalem. Olmert quotes the powerful words of Israeli poet Uri Zvi Greenberg:
"Woman, here is your son!
On his back Jerusalem stands:
Jerusalem of blood, of abyss, of fragments, of majesty…
On his small back, human back, stands Jerusalem, large and heavy and on
A voice cries out to him: get on!
Woman, here is your son!
He is drawing far away from you, and illuminating.
Escort him with the blessing of the traveler…"
Jonathan Pollard, languishing in his prison cell in Butner, NC for the 21st year of a life sentence he's serving for passing information to Israel, uses more ancient imagery in a special plea to be read at the Jerusalem rally calling for his freedom today.
Pollard's words include the admonition penned by 12th century Jewish poet Yehuda Halevi: "Zion won't you seek the welfare of your captives?"
Pollard writes: "And where is the Nation?
I cry out to you from the depths of my soul: Zion, hallo tishalee eht shlom assiraych? Zion, won't you seek the welfare of your captives!
If Zion will not seek the welfare of her captives, it is not the personal problem of the captives. The problem rests entirely upon Zion and upon all who dwell in Zion."
Pollard supporters gather outside the American Consulate before joining the Flag Parade that brings tens of thousands of flag-bearing Israelis clad in blue and white marching through downtown Jerusalem streets before culminating in a mass solidarity statement in front of the Kotel at dusk. The groups split up to enter the Old City through the various gates on the eastern side, symbolically marking Israeli sovereignty over all parts of Jerusalem. They converge on the Kotel joining with thousands of people spilling over into the streets of the Jewish and Moslem Quarters.
The sounds of prayer and thanksgiving at the Kotel rise up above the ancient
walls--no longer the 'wailing wall' of years when others ruled Jerusalem and
determined the Jewish fate here. A continuous round of prayer and speeches takes place on into the evening as green and blue lasers dance over buildings close to the Old City.
For the Ethiopian community, Jerusalem Day has evolved into a memorial day. Thousands of Ethiopian Jews who trekked through Sudan and the Ethiopian countryside to take part in Operations Solomon (1991) and Moses (1984) died before they saw Jerusalem. Their relatives mark the day with prayer and ceremonies in the Holy City.
All through the heat of the day, groups of school kids and workers committees spread out in the parks and gardens close to the Old City as they refresh themselves before the final hike up to the Kotel. A few dozen hardy types march along the fields next to the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway on their way up to the city, followed by a jeep carrying supplies.
During the day, the main challenge in Jerusalem has been getting anywhere. With roads closed throughout the city center, driving is out of the question. Many bus routes suspend operations for a couple of hours during the parade, and so thousands take to the streets in a jovial mass of Jerusalem humanity.
The Cinematheque, an art film house in the valley just below Mt. Zion that houses Israel's film archives hosts a day-long symposium on Sustainable Jerusalem that features panel discussions and screenings of old films about the city. "My Margo" is a black and white feature film with a romantic story line set in Jerusalem of 1969. The audience sighs in collective nostalgia at each piece of footage of the newly reunified Jerusalem.
Outside in the Cinematheque courtyard against the backdrop of the Tower of David and Jaffa Gate, a world music band entertains a few dozen people. Back in my neighborhood a few minutes walk away, it's 12:30 a.m. but nobody minds that there's an accordion belting out some of the triumphant Jerusalem songs of the 60s and 70s on an apartment balcony as a group of friends joins in.
Perhaps the song and poetry of the day may best be summed up by the words of the prophet Isaiah: "For Zion's sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not be still, until her righteousness emanates like bright light, and her salvation blazes like a torch."