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What do we celebrate on Jerusalem Day?

This coming Sunday, May 29, is Jerusalem Day. Jerusalem was liberated from the Jordanian occupation after six days of fighting, known as (surprise!) ״The Six-Day War״, which took place in June 1967, after neighboring countries planned to attack the nascent State of Israel. A dark joke circulated at that time, calling for "the last person to leave should turn off the lights!" The commonly held pessimistic view was that Israel was an experiment that managed to survive for about 20 years in the Middle East. However, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon would now bring Israel to its obvious end.

 

Contrary to all odds, Israel not only blocked the attacks of the neighboring countries but also managed to conquer East Jerusalem from the Jordanians. As a result, for the first time in 20 years, Jews have been given the right to access their holiest place in the world, the Western Wall (known in Hebrew as "the Kotel"). In addition, after Mount Scopus became safely accessible, The Hebrew University returned to the campus after being exiled to the western part of the city during the Jordanian occupation.

 

The battle and its consequences became a significant event in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One can never guess how history could have developed had it happened otherwise; nevertheless, there is no doubt that valuable opportunities for peace between the two nations have been missed, and either side places responsibility on the other.

 

The chief military rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, arrived at the Western Wall together with the soldiers who were first to reach the place. He held a small Sefer Torah and blew a shofar, producing one of the most famous pictures of that historical event. Although the most famous picture, later becoming iconic, depicted the paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall: stunned, excited, and shocked at the end of long, exhausting days of fighting (see photos). That photograph of the very first moments after occupying the Kotel was published all over the country, becoming one of the most known historical Israeli photographs.

 

Right after the war's end, Israelis and Jews from all over the world went up to the Western Wall, drunk with joy and euphoria. They prayed, danced, sang, cried, and read the Torah. Up until the liberation of the Western Wall, Jews could only pray on the rooftop of King David's tomb, located on Mount Zion. This was the closest to the holy place they could reach without crossing the Jordanian border.

 

The local photographers immediately understood the importance of those historical days and therefore intensively documented, for about a month, the hundreds of thousands of visitors. They also captured the first efforts to renovate the space and create it into a national pilgrimage center. The National Library of Israel collected those rare images, where one can see President Zalman Shazar reading from the Sefer Torah wearing a helmet and David Ben-Gurion visiting the Western Wall in a “tembel” hat (see photos).

 

The photos are taken by the photography agency founded by Dan Hadani, which documented Israeli history, society, and culture, in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

The International M.A program at Melton Centre offers an online course on "renewing the practice of Israel Education," giving educators around the world the opportunity to rethink the content, methods, and themes of their Israel Education classes. Check out the blended learning M.A program on our website>>> https://masterjewishprogram.huji.ac.il/

 

 

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