Tens of thousands of Jews from all four corners of the world gathered in downtown Jerusalem on Wednesday to march in solidarity to the Western Wall, in the annual Jerusalem Day Flag Parade celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the capital following the Six Day War.
Under a cloudless, sunny sky – amid a pronounced police presence
– Independence Park became a sea of blue and white, as thousands of yeshiva students draped in, and waving, Israeli flags danced shoulder to shoulder, their arms locked, while singing joyous Jewish hymns.
Across the road, near the US Consulate on Agron Street, thousands more men, women and children also proudly waved and wore flags, as a wall of 10-foot speakers mounted on the sidewalk blasted song after song, while police helicopters flew high above.
Talia Renner, 19, and Orly Grobeisen, 18, both members of Bnei Akiva, the world’s largest Zionist youth movement, flew to Israel from Mexico City, where they attended Jewish day schools, to participate in the procession to the Western Wall.
“Today is about celebrating that we are here and that the whole nation is united,” said Renner, as she waved a large Israeli flag. “We didn’t have a unified capital before, and now, for 50 years, we have the chance to be here celebrating on Jerusalem’s streets, and at one time we couldn’t.”
Renner dismissed the recent UNESCO resolutions claiming that Israel does not have sovereignty over Jerusalem, and that the Temple Mount is not related to Judaism.
“We won this city fair and square,” she said. “We fought for it and it is historically our land and our country, so I don’t think we should be debating whether it is someone else’s. It’s ours, and always has been.”
Asked why they came from such a great distance to celebrate, Grobeisen replied, “Because this is our land, and this is our moment to live here and to celebrate what our grandfathers fought for.”
“We lost a lot of lives in the war, and this is the result of that,” she continued, adding: “It’s not only sadness and death, but happiness and life, because Israel is united.”
Grobeisen said when she returns to Mexico she will work to combat an overwhelmingly negative international narrative about the Jewish nation.
“A young person like me can go back home and tell people about the incredible things happening here, and how Israel sends countless volunteers and doctors to help other nations,” she said. “That Israel is here for the world, and the world should be here for Israel.”
Wearing a vintage blue Brooklyn Dodgers cap, Ben Lopata, a 65-year-old banker from Long Island, said he wanted to attend the celebration to show support as an American Jew.
“Coming here certainly shows Israel the support of American and world Jewry,” he said. “And it’s pretty amazing to be here. Fifty years ago was a very traumatic time, and it ended well and it’s very nice to see how the state has developed over those 50 years.”
Shelly and Anne Golombeck, both 57, whose son served as a lone soldier in the IDF, said they felt compelled to fly from New York to be in the capital for the jubilee celebration.
“As Americans, it is important for us to show our support,” said Anne.
“We’re here to say Jerusalem is our capital, and to stress that fact to the rest of the world. Today we walked the path the soldiers marched to reunify the city 50 years ago, and it literally sent chills through us,” she added.
Shelly said he takes particular pride in the strides Israel has made across a breadth of fields over the last five decades, despite its many geopolitical challenges.
“The fact that Israel has come so far in such a short time and proven itself is remarkable,” he said.
“Israel has become a world leader in technology, science and medicine. When there is a natural disaster, Israel is the first country to always send aid, and it’s important for us to be here to send the message back home to our friends and neighbors – Jewish and non-Jewish – what Israel represents in terms of kindness to the world.”
Priel Lalush, a 17-year-old Israeli, whose parents emigrated from France, said national and international unity among Jews is particularly important on Jerusalem Day.
“Today is very important for every Jew, because Jerusalem is a big part of our history and country,” he said.
“We should all be together as one today to celebrate.”
Ateret Hassid, a 25-year-old Orthodox nurse from Jerusalem, who came to the parade with her husband Shahar, a Torah student, said she hoped to dance and sing with the thousands of others marching in the procession.
“We came to honor Jerusalem and represent our families for this milestone, which is very exciting,” said Ateret. “It doesn’t matter what the world says about us; we are good and strong, and have a long history and right to be here.”
“God wants us here,” added Shahar with a smile.
“And the future is here.”
Indeed, 9th grader Maya Kravitz, who traveled to the parade with hundreds of fellow students from Elkana in the West Bank, said she and her classmates hope to ensure Jerusalem’s future safety and prosperity.
“We came here today to be united with our nation,” she said. “This is our capital city, and we are proud to be part of its future and to one day join the IDF. We are a small country, but a strong country.”
Amiad Zeletzer, a 41-year-old father of six from the Golan Heights, came to the parade with his wife and two youngest children.
“Jerusalem is the heart of the nation, and thank God, we have it once again thanks to the soldiers of the Six Day War,” he said. “We appreciate what we have, and say thank you to them.”
One of those soldiers included Ronnie Kaplan, 74, who traveled from Johannesburg for the celebration, and attended a reunion with 36 of the 60 paratroopers who fought in his unit.
“There were 60 of us who came here from Johannesburg to defend Israel before and during the war, which was very quick,” he said. “Everybody pulled together and helped each other, and 50 years later we had a fantastic weekend on a kibbutz together.”
Surveying the thousands of jubilant participants, Kaplan added with a smile: “There is nothing like this parade anywhere in the world.”
He continued: “I am very proud to be here, and proud to be a Jew who helped fight for the State of Israel.”