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Jerusalem Day 2009
by Judy Lash Balint
May 21, 2009

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 42nd 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.

They've come to the capital, along with thousands of kibbutzniks, members of workers committees and regional councils from all over Israel, to join with various army bands, street performers and musicians who all wind their way through the center of
the city and then disperse amongst the myriad of events marking the opening of Jerusalem Day.

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 the masses take to the streets in a jovial mass of Jerusalem humanity.

Beit Orot, the hesder Yeshiva on the Mount 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 paratroopers did 42 years ago. The students generally makes it to the Kotel in time for the Vatikin early morning prayers. Forty-two 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 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's all 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 never attend 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.