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Celebrating 40 years
Jerusalem Day in the Old City
by Judy Lash Balint
May 15, 2007

The amplified wail of the muezzin from the Al Aksa mosque on the Temple Mount couldn't drown out the celebrations ringing out over Jerusalem tonight.

From every corner of the Old City, youthful voices join in singing all the classic Six Day War songs as the city celebrates the 40th anniversary of reunification.

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. Groups of teenagers clad in blue and white dance in front of the Kotel and clog downtown streets.

The opening parade that takes place in the center of town is billed by the PR department of the Jerusalem Municipality as “The Working Agricultural Settlement marches in Jerusalem.”

Foreign reporters could be forgiven for thinking they were going back in time to a Soviet-style parade. Spectators are treated to figures depicting various aspects of kibbutz and moshav life, and tractors driven by kibbutzniks dressed in those old Russian white collarless shirts, embroidered with red stitching around the neckline.

The parade features contingents from every regional council in Israel, various army bands, street performers and musicians who all wind their way through the center of
the city as tens of thousands of Jerusalemites start dispersing amongst the myriad of events marking the opening of Jerusalem Day.

At the central event, a televised gala concert marking the opening of Israel Song Week, thousands of celebrants of all ages throng Sacher Park. Young couples with strollers; families with young kids; teenage girls and older couples all mingle comfortably and spread out together on the grassy slope overlooking the stage, while exuberant young boys pack themselves into the moshpit area to be closer to the action. The food stalls selling kosher hamburgers, hotdogs and French fries are mobbed and with barely any trash cans, the park soon becomes an environmentalist's nightmare.

The program features an array of well-known Israeli entertainers including Yoram Gaon, Shlomi Shabat, the Idan Reichel Project, Shlomo Gronich and Hadag Hanahash who deliver traditional as well as new songs about Jerusalem. Hadag Hanahash open their set by pronouncing a blessing on Jerusalem; Shlomi Shabat sings about Jerusalem of peace; Haim Yisrael sings about King David's harp and Shlomo Gronich delivers a haunting version of a verse from the Hallel prayer of thanksgiving. Who says Israelis have forgotten their roots?

The main challenge of the day is 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
getting close to the Old City is virtually impossible except on foot,
so thousands take to the streets in a jovial mass of Jerusalem humanity.

Beit Orot, the hesder Yeshiva on the Mt of Olives celebrates Yom
Yerushalayim in their usual festive manner, with an all-night event. Traditionally known as THE happening Jerusalem Day party place for the national religious yeshiva crowd, this year's festivities uphold its reputation. The bands stop playing around 4:30 a.m. when the young crowd picks up their flags to retrace the footsteps of the paratroopers of 1967. They walk down the same road from the Mt of Olives, turning left at the Kidron Valley and following the Jericho Road as far as Lion's Gate where they climb the hill to enter the Old City, just like the soldiers in their tanks 40 years ago. The students generally makes it to the Kotel in time for the Vatikin early morning prayers. Forty years ago, it was midday as the IDF soldiers made their way down from their conquest of the Temple Mount to become the first Jews in 19 years to gain access to the Kotel.

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.

The festivities and commemorations continue all day tomorrow with the flag parade culminating in a swirl of dancing and celebrating at the Kotel; the official memorial ceremony at Ammunition Hill for the fallen soldiers who helped liberate Jerusalem; the Mayor's annual open house reception at the Tower of David and the Bereishit Children's Jerusalem Quiz. It'll all be topped off with a series of outdoor evening concerts and a final fireworks display.

For one day, at least, we ignore the security concerns and political realities (even though it's hard to swallow the fact that not a single country in the world maintains an embassy in Israel's capital and that EU and US officials are not planning on attending Jerusalem Day observances) and we focus on the miracle that restored the Jewish people to the city that King David declared as his capital so many thousands of years ago.

Chag Yerushalayim Sameach!