Less than three months ago, the police sirens and flashing lights outside the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem were in response to a deadly terror attack that left eight students dead.
Tonight, those same sirens and flashing lights were there to ensure the safety of the thousands who came from all over the city to celebrate Yom Yerushalayim--Jerusalem Day, marking the 41st anniversary of the reunification of the city in the 1967 Six Day War.
Every synagogue in the city has its own prayer service on Yom Yerushalayim, but this year, the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva was designated as the central site for observance of the uplifting and relatively brief service.
People dressed in white shirts and blue skirts or pants poured into the yeshiva compound on Zvi Yehuda Street not far from the Central Bus Station as dusk descended on the city.
Despite the large police presence in the street, security at the entrance was no more than the usual cursory glance into bags and faces. Inside, every inch of space was occupied by the overwhelmingly youthful crowd. I managed to squeeze myself onto an outside balcony next to the windows of the Beit Midrash alongside a few hundred other women. The women's section inside was packed with a few hundred more women of every age and size, while dozens more congregated outside where the service was broadcast on a large screen.
The prayer was simple and fervent, but even the sound of the shofar carried a sadness in its tone, and the singing was markedly restrained. Not surprising, as many in the crowd must have been present on that dreadful night a few short months ago when a lone Arab terrorist from a well-to-do eastern Jerusalem clan fired round after round into the bodies of teenage yeshiva students.
Still, as the service ended and everyone emerged into the spacious courtyard in front of the building, a lively band struck up and dancing began. On the way home I passed a few other Jerusalem Day festivities--in Zion Square and Safra Square different kinds of music and dancing were going on. On the bus I ran into friends who were coming from different Yom Yerushalayim observances. Rivka Duker Fishman had just given a lecture at her synagogue on one of her areas of expertise, Jerusalem in Second Temple Times, and another neighbor was part of a walking tour group that had stopped at the top of my street to learn about how UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte was assassinated there in 1948 by the Lehi Jewish underground.
Tomorrow there will be the flag parade ending in a mass celebration at the Kotel, and a host of other events and tours shining the spotlight on Jerusalem. You can be sure that Mercaz Harav students Neria Cohen,15; Yonatan Yitzhak Eldar, 16; Yonadav Haim Hirshfeld, 19; Yohai Lifshitz, 18; Doron Tronoh Maharata, 26; Avraham David Moses, 16, and Ro'i Rot, 18, would all have wanted to be there.