This weekend, Israel will commemorate the reunification of her capital, Jerusalem. Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, falls on the 28th day of the month of Iyar on the Hebrew Calendar – the day on which Jerusalem became one after almost 20 years of division.
Jerusalem’s reunification is in a large part thanks to the brave IDF soldiers who recaptured the Holy City during the 1967 Six-Day War. Rabbi Eckstein has written before about the courageous IDF paratrooper, Yoske “Balagan” Schwartz, whose unit played a part in this dramatic story. Here’s an excerpt from a past message on Yoske and his fellow IDF soldiers, with Yoske’s own reflections included:
[Yoske’s] commanding officer said, “You the veterans will get a special prize… You will get to free the Western Wall.” But the “special prize” came at a high cost—a cost paid in Israeli blood. As Yoske recalled, “The Jordanian soldiers knew the place well, and were some of the best fighters I’d ever seen… [They] fought to the death. We fought for hours, and many died.”
When the Jordanian troops were finally beaten back, Yoske and his friends found themselves in an ironic situation. They were Jews, having to ask local residents for directions to the holiest place of their faith! “I remember that we were trying to get to the Western Wall and we didn’t know where it was,” he says. “With difficulty we found it, we didn’t know the place, we had to ask Arabs, ‘Where is the place that Jews used to cry to many years ago?'”
Approaching the Western Wall (known to Israelis as the Kotel), the impact of the battle began to sink in. Many of the men who fought bravely alongside Yoske had been killed. But there was no time to mourn. Already Yoske’s commanders were gathering him and his men to take them to northern Israel, where fighting was still raging. But before they left, Yoske and some of his friends found a moment to pray. It is a moment forever emblazoned in his memory.
“I remember suddenly tens of thousands of Jews—young, old, men and women, were all running to the Western Wall, crying and hugging us and calling us heroes,” he recalls. “We didn’t feel like heroes, but we cried and prayed with them… On the one hand, so many of my friends had been killed. But on the other hand, sitting in front of the Western Wall, I felt Jerusalem. I always say that I had once thought, ‘Who are these people with streimelsand payot [the fur hat and side curls worn by many Orthodox Jewish men]? I’m not like them, I’m a new Israeli man.’ But when I got to the Kotel I understood that I was just a Jew. It was an amazing feeling.”