My guess is that in 100 years, Jerusalem Day will be one of the most important
dates on the Jewish calendar. In synagogues throughout the world we will sing
the Hallel and Sheheyanu prayers. Because in 1967, the Jewish world changed in a
way only prayed for but not expected.
My wife and I were students here in
the academic year 1966-67. In those days, Jerusalem was a sleepy town. There was
one public pool and people bought bags of garinim (sunflower seeds) and bottles
of Tempo Cola and took them into one of the several movie theaters down
We lived in Beit Giora, and at the nearby Jerusalem Theater, now a
retirement home, we saw movies that my parents saw in the 1930s. Ben Yehuda was
still a street with cars and Saturday night was crowded with kids sitting on the
barriers that were supposed to protect them from the traffic.
would stare across the various barricades around town at the Old
From some of the high walls we could actually see people walking
around in another country. No one said much about it, but it seemed like a good
compromise and a solution to Jewish theology. We couldn’t get near the Temple
Mount and the golden dome which we could see from Talpiot, and thus though
people continued to pray for the restoration of the Temple, no one thought that
Jews would openly pray at the Western Wall.
Moreover, we were told that
despite talk of war in the spring of 1967, there would be no war because the
United States had warned against it. However, by that point the U S was mired
deep in the war in Vietnam, and they were not winning, thought they told the
public they were. Again, we were told even if there was a war, it was about
Egypt and had nothing to do with Jerusalem since Jerusalem was not a military
On Independence Day in 1967 there was a giant parade down King
George Street, and I have a dozen or so pictures of the event.
soldiers marched, but no heavy weapons were allowed. We didn’t know it when we
moved in but Beit Giora had an enormous bomb shelter in the basement.
morning we woke up to find hundreds of IDF reservists in the basement.
asked Bracha, the director of our hostel, what we could do. “Make sandwiches,”
she said. And eventually we, the small group of Anglos going to school here,
made 1,000 sandwiches and handed them out.
Another 34 years went by
before we made it official and made aliya.
The difference between
Jerusalem then and now is startling. Some 34 years before our aliya, most people
got around by buses, which stopped at midnight. There were few traffic lights
around town, and fewer hotels.
Restaurants were not the rage and most
people had their big meal at lunch. Television came later.
Once in a
while I drive out of Motza and follow the old windy road back onto Highway 1
toward Jerusalem. Even now, I remember the slow-moving bus from Tel Aviv
climbing that two-lane road to Jerusalem, a tiny piece of which has merely
become an access road.
I grew up in Denver , Colorado, and virtually
every Sunday we would drive across town with my father to visit my grandmother
who lived in West Denver. Invariably, as we drove along, my father would point
to various building from an earlier age. One of my favorites was: “In 1931 I
could have bought what is now the Zuk Building for a dollar.” Which he didn’t
have at the time, since he was earning a dollar a week.
So, like my
father and the Zuk building, I drive people around Jerusalem pointing out where
the border used to be, a pill box here and the old train station (being
regentrified as I write these words) there.
When it comes to religion
Jerusalem today is pretty much as it was 34 years ago. No buses on Shabbat and
not very many restaurants open. Though everyone agrees there are more Orthodox
today, also there are more restaurants open on Shabbat.
At that time, The
Jerusalem Post was one sheet with four pages of news. There was no New York
Times unless someone brought it from America, the most popular drink was Tempo
Cola, people mostly ate chicken and red meat was rare. Golda Meir wasn’t yet
prime minister and sometimes she called on the phone over at the apartment of
Spicehandler (the dean of the recently opened Hebrew Union College),
and I heard a voice saying, “Golda Meir calling!” Jerusalem has been at the
center of Judaism from Bible times. You hear the longing for Jerusalem
everywhere: the end of the Passover Seder, the end of Yom Kippur, the end of
weddings, and in everyday prayers.
As I was saying, my prediction is that
Jerusalem Day will climb to the height of the Jewish calendar because for so
long Jews were denied access to the holy places.
Today Jerusalem has
become a pluralistic place. Many cultures live here and flourish, many streams
of Judaism also flourish side by side, and as envisioned in the Bible: when
peace finally comes many will stream up to the City of Jerusalem and the holy
places and worship God freely.
The writer is a reform rabbi. He and his
wife, Ellyn, fulfilled their lifelong dream by making aliya 12 years ago to