Jerusalem -- It
was supposed to be a day of celebration of the 36th anniversary of the reunification
of Jerusalem, a day traditionally marked by formal ceremonies, fireworks,
speeches, concerts and marches through the city. But this year, events and
nature conspired to make the day feel slightly off target.
For would-be celebrants, two elements put many of them off from turning out
to take part in the events marking Israel's miraculous achievements in reuniting
Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War. Politics and the weather.
Many Jerusalemites were still reeling from the Cabinet vote supporting the
Road Map just a few days earlier. If carried out, the Map threatens to return
Jerusalem to its pre-1967 status. As a Jerusalem Day editorial pointed out
in the Jerusalem Post: "...never has the future of Jerusalem been as fraught
Weather-wise, the day was marked by a fierce sharav--one of those unique
Middle Eastern heat waves that combine abnormally high temperatures with
blowing sand. In much of the country, temperatures hovered around 104 F,
while Jerusalem struggled through a day of "only" 95 F. Health authorities
issued an advisory for the elderly and those with respiratory or heart problems
to stay indoors, while the rest of us attempted to clear our eyes and noses
of the fine-particled sand from which it was impossible to escape.
A string of fires broke out all over the country fanned by the strong easterly
winds. The worst damage occurred in the Haifa area where thick smoke blanketed
the bay and the port area. Along the heavily traveled Tel Aviv-Jerusalem
highway, smoke from brush fires mixed with the sand-filled air to reduce
visibility to almost nothing.
In the late afternoon and into the evening, rain was added to the mix. Mixed
with the sand, the rain turned to liquid mud, coating everything with a layer
of brown. It was far too hot to wear a coat with a hood, so most people either
just ignored it or accepted the brown flecks all over their clothes, while
others carried umbrellas.
A free outdoor concert in the courtyard of the Jerusalem Theater that was
supposed to mark the opening of the two-week long Israel Festival was cancelled
at the last minute. Even though the elaborate stage had been covered with
plastic at the first sign of the raindrops, organizers didn't want to risk
ruining the $70,000 worth of equipment when it became clear, an hour after
the scheduled starting time, that the rain wasn't going to stop any time
But earlier in the day, thousands did make it into the city--for the first
time in months, streets and parking lots were clogged with tour buses from
all over the country. Most of the passengers were exuberant teenagers who
were happy to get a day off school to come to fill out the various public
The PR department of the Jerusalem Municipality billed the opening parade
that took place the night before, as "The Working Agricultural Settlement
marches in Jerusalem." By way of explanation in an English language news
release to the foreign press, they added the following paragraph:
"The local councils from all around the nation carry on a past tradition
of bringing bikurim to Jerusalem in Shavuoth. Large agricultural representatives
will be passing through the streets of the city showing agricultural tools
dating from the beginning of the century and until today. Thousands of teenagers
from the Working Agricultural Settlement of around the country will bring
the country's greetings to Jerusalem."
Foreign reporters could be forgiven for thinking they were going back in
time to a Soviet-style parade. In fact, the "large agricultural representatives"
were parade-style figures depicting various aspects of kibbutz and moshav
life, and tractors driven by kibbutzniks dressed in those old Russian white
collarless shirts, embroidered with red stitching around the neckline.
Highlight of the parade was a sneak preview of a life size mock-up of the
light-rail train scheduled to make its appearance on Jerusalem streets a
few years from now. Most poignant was the drive by of more than a dozen ZAKA
units--the mostly Haredi volunteer Disaster Victim Identification teams who
spring into action after every terror tragedy.
Along the route that had the floats gliding down Jaffa Road, up King George
Street and down Betzalel into Gan Sacher, the crowd was sparse, with the
exception of a few clusters around Zion Square.
A little later in the evening, thousands did show up to enjoy a free concert
dedicated to the memory of two American students who were killed last August
in the Hebrew University cafeteria bombing. Ben Blutstein and Marla Bennett
were remembered by an eclectic audience who came to the Haas Promenade overlooking
the city to listen to the world-style music of Sheva and the rapstyle Dag
Hanahash group. The Blutstein family from Harrisburg, PA were sitting near
the stage as Sheva's lead singer asked the crowd for a moment of "deep silence"
to think of the soldiers and wounded.
The main events of the day itself were the Flag parade and the official commemoration
at Ammunition Hill. An estimated 50,000 took part in the Flag parade--predominantly
students from national religious schools. The girls gathered at Gan Sacher
and the boys at Independence Park to pick up thousands of Israeli flags before
marching through the city, stopping for spirited singing and dancing along
the way. The groups split up to enter the Old City through the various gates
symbolically marking Israeli sovereignty over all parts of the city. They
converged on the Kotel joining with thousands of adults spilling over into
the streets of the Jewish and Moslem Quarters. A continuous round of prayer
and speeches took place on into the evening despite the heat, rain and wind.
Over at Binyanei Hauma, the International Congress Hall not far from the
western entrance to the city, an all night women's gathering was going on
to mark Jerusalem Day. Thousands of observant high school students and religious
women recited psalms, listened to speeches from prominent rabbis and swayed
and danced to all-womens music groups throughout the night.
The other all-night event took place at Yeshivat Beit Orot, the hesder yeshiva
on the Mt of Olives. Traditionally known as THE happening Jerusalem Day party
place for the national religious yeshiva crowd, this year's concert upheld
its reputation. The bands stopped playing around 4:30 a.m. when the young
crowd picked up their flags to retrace the footsteps of the paratroopers
of 1967. They walked down the same road from the Mt of Olives, turning left
at the Kidron Valley and following the Jericho Road as far as Lion's Gate
where they climbed the hill to enter the Old City, just like the soldiers
in their tanks 36 years ago. This morning, the crowd made it to the Kotel
in time for the Vatikin early morning prayers. Thirty-six years ago, it was
midday as the IDF soldiers made their way down from their conquest of the
Temple Mount to become the first Jews in 19 years to gain access to the Kotel.
Recalling the emotions of that momentous day in Jewish history, made this
year's official Jerusalem Day commemoration all the more difficult to comprehend.
In his remarks at the Ammunition Hill ceremony, Prime Minister Arik Sharon
vowed to keep Jerusalem united. Standard boilerplate language used by every
prime minister on every Jerusalem Day. What was shocking, and perhaps in
keeping with his linguistic faux pas about "the occupation" earlier in the
week, was Sharon's statement that: "For 36 years there have been no missiles
in Jerusalem..and no enemy has watched us and spit fire from the gun embrasures
of its walls and towers. Never again will gunfire be directed at it (Jerusalem)..."
Go tell that to the residents of Gilo.
So, at the end of the day, the celebrating and commemorating did little to
assuage the trepidation of many in the capital about what the future may
Judy Lash Balint is a Jerusalem based writer and author of Jerusalem Diaries: In Tense Times (Gefen). Reprinted by permission of the author.
Email Judy Lash Balint
this article to a friend