Kibbutz on Gaza border makes annual pilgrimage to capital for Jerusalem Day

Founders fought for city's liberation in Six Day War.

In a four-decade tradition, members of Kibbutz Alumim, near the border with Gaza, are taking the day off Thursday to make an annual "kibbutz pilgrimage" to the capital for Jerusalem Day celebrations. The outing's roots go back 42 years, when the original kibbutz founders fought in the battle to liberate Jerusalem's Old City with the Paratroop Brigade during the 1967 Six Day War. They subsequently declared the day a vacation day - except for vital necessities, like milking the cows - for visiting the capital. "We thought that it was at least as important as Independence Day," said Gabai Ben-Dov, 63, one of the kibbutz founders who took part in the fighting. "Later, people understood it as a day off." Ben-Dov said that about 10 of the 50 founders of the border-area religious kibbutz - which was established in 1966 on the grounds of a kibbutz abandoned during the 1948 War of Independence - fought for Jerusalem in the Six Day War. The kibbutz, which again became a border community following the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, is now on the front-lines, with Palestinian rockets periodically sending the 375 kibbutz members running for cover in shelters. The Jerusalem pilgrimage on which about two-thirds of kibbutz members still embark on Jerusalem Day includes two hikes in the capital, one at night and one during the day. "This is a tradition we want to uphold, even though it's often the grandchildren of the people who liberated Jerusalem," said kibbutz general secretary Sarah-Jane Landsman, who made aliya 23 years ago from the UK. Nearly 20 percent of the kibbutz members are British immigrants who came to Israel through the Bnei Akiva religious youth movement. The traditional Jerusalem trek has withstood time and change, as many non-Jerusalemites don't mark Jerusalem Day. Ben-Dov said it was "heartbreaking" that the vast majority of people celebrating Jerusalem Day today were the modern Orthodox. "People do not grasp the magnitude of the event, and the result is that one speaks about the division of Jerusalem with such ease," he concluded.