Andrew Getraer Shares Thoughts About Jerusalem, 50 Years After

By Andrew Getraer, Executive Director, June 7, 2017

50 years ago today, June 7, 1967, Jewish sovereignty was returned to Jerusalem, our holy city and eternal capital, for the first time since the 2nd Jewish Commonwealth was conquered by the Romans in 70 CE.

It is hard to explain just how momentous an event this is. From the perspective of the ages, the return of Jewish sovereignty to Jerusalem is astonishing, one of the most unlikely events in the history of the human experience. It is an open miracle.

Is there another case in the history of the world where an indigenous people were:

  • conquered by an invading colonial empire
  • their leaders killed
  • their government and religious institutions destroyed
  • their people dragged off in chains as slaves, banished from their homeland, and scattered around the world
  • their land occupied and renamed by their conquerors

– who then returned in triumph TWO THOUSAND years later to reclaim their land, rebuild their nation, and reestablish their ancient capital? (Short answer: No, there isn’t.)

The history of the Jewish People from the Roman Destruction until the reestablishment of Israel and the reunification of Jerusalem is so far-fetched, so out of the realm of all other human history, that it is hard to grasp.  There is simply no historical parallel: our imaginations have no context to fully appreciate the events.

It would be as if the people of Tibet, their nation conquered by the Chinese empire in 1959, their leaders exiled, their temples destroyed, and their country renamed, spent two millennia wandering the world while entire cultures and civilizations rose and fell, taking turns ruling their homeland. Yet somehow the Tibetans returned, speaking their same language, practicing their same religion, to reclaim their home and independence – in the year 3959!

It is the stuff of science fiction. Such things do not happen. And yet they did. They are happening today, in our time, to the Jewish People in the State of Israel.

During our two millennia of wandering homeless, Jews dreamed of the return to Zion and Jerusalem. We wrote countless psalms, poems, and songs about Jerusalem, from King David to Judah Halevi to Matisyahu. Traditional Jews pray multiple times a day for Jerusalem. On our holydays we don’t just say, we shout the words that express our hope for the ages: Next Year in Jerusalem!

How wondrous it is then that we, our generation, out of all the countless generations of the Jewish People, are privileged and blessed to live at a time when we can say “Har HaBayit B’Yardeinu!” – “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”

We should never, ever take this for granted. When I was born the Old City was ‘Judenrein’ – no Jews allowed. The ancient Jewish Quarter had been ethnically cleansed by the Jordanian Army, which occupied Jerusalem from 1948-1967, destroyed ancient synagogues, and banned Jews entirely.

But The Six Day War changed everything. Surrounded by five Arab armies vowing the complete annihilation of the Jewish State, the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, with resolute leadership, seemingly aided by the hand of G-d, not only saved Israel from a second Holocaust, but drove the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan out of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, Gaza, the Golan, and Sinai. The heartland of the Jewish Nation was once again a part of our People.

Today, anytime we desire, for the price of a plane ticket, we can walk the streets of the Old City, place a note in the Kotel, and touch ancient walls built by Biblical kings of Israel. Just this week over 50 Rutgers Hillel students returned from Birthright, having walked in our ancestors’ footsteps as casually as they walk down College Avenue.

Our millennia of prayers have been answered. The songs of our tradition have come alive. The vows at the end of the Passover Seder have become real.

The words of HaTikvah, the Israeli national anthem, still give me goosebumps, because the dream they represent has come true:

לִהְיוֹת עַם חָפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ, אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם

Liyot am choshfi be’artzenu, Eretz Tzion v’Yerushalayim

To be a free people in our land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem