Wednesday, June 7, marked the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem and the conclusion of the Six-Day War. State representatives, including Senator Loretta Weinberg, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi and Consul for Public Diplomacy Galit Peleg, joined a statewide event at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus.
Event attendees, which included seventh-grade students of BPY, were also tuned in to a live telecast from Washington, DC and Jerusalem, where speakers there included Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. respectively.
In his speech to audiences in all 50 states and millions of online viewers, Netanyahu recalled his memories of the historic moment in Israeli history. Growing up in Jerusalem, he remembered his mother warning him never to turn right out of his house for fear of running into Jordanian mindfields and snipers.
“It was a wounded and divided city,” he said. “It had no future.”
After hearing the famous words of Israeli victory, “the Temple Mount is in our hands,” from where he was hiding in a bomb shelter, he remembered people flooding the alleys of the Old City, desperate to set foot in the land of their ancestors. Touching the stones of the Kotel for the first time felt “like a lightning bolt,” he said. “Everything was coming from those stones through my fingers, to my soul—Abraham and David and Saul, the ages of torment...salvation and of eternal redemption,” he said. “We came back...we united the city.”
In an effort to emphasize how fragile the situation is in the Middle East for the seventh-grade students, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi likened the danger Israel still continues to face from its neighboring countries to the similarly sized state of New Jersey at risk of attack from New York, Connecticut, Delaware and Pennsylvania.
And that’s why “it’s so imperative that the United States continues to provide unequivocal support for our sister nation,” Schepisi said.
Gordon Haas, president of the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations, also wanted to remind young students of a time when the fate of Jerusalem had yet to be decided and how troubling it was for the Jewish people to be separated from their holy city.
“It’s part of history,” he said, which can be easily forgotten if it’s not taught the right way. To Haas, it was more important that students hear from other people about the war than just read about it in history books. “Thank God there’s still some of us around who remember it,” he said. He described the fear he felt during the lead-up to the Six-Day War, thinking that the state of Israel was on the verge of being destroyed just 19 years after declaring independence.
Yet despite all odds, “to hear, ‘har habayit b’yadeinu,’” I still cry when I hear it,” Haas said.
For seventh-grade student Dahlia Ramirez, the program was enough to revive her love for Israel, especially after seeing so much negative coverage of the country in the media.
“I thought it was nice to see people who show their appreciation, and to see people who love Israel just as much as we do, because we don’t see that a lot these days,” Ramirez said. As someone who was not alive during the days of the Six-Day war, she knew how important it was to hear from both American and Israeli representatives who were alive during that time.
She said she felt lucky to live in a time where it was easy to visit Israel and its holy sites. “It’s easy to take it for granted,” she said.
The event was sponsored by the General Consul of Israel in New York, the New Jersey-Israel Commission, the New Jersey State Association of Jewish Federations and the Jewish Federation of Northern Jersey.
By Elizabeth Zakaim
Elizabeth Zakaim is a rising junior journalism and psychology double major at The College of New Jersey. She is also a summer intern at The Jewish Link. Feel free to email her at [email protected] with any questions or comments.