We talk about the generational history of Judaism – l’dor vador – as an unbroken chain of faith and hope. Yet, it seems as though for the nearly 2,000 years of exile from Jerusalem, the chain was miraculously held together despite the broken links of exile. Though Psalm 137:5 famously avows, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its cunning,” Judaism – somehow – survived without Jerusalem.
The Six Day War was more than the miraculous military victory of Israel over its enemies. Undoubtedly, the defeat of Israel’s attackers is fit for narrative alongside the biblical felling of Goliath or as its own canonical record like the Book of Maccabees, which recounts the miraculous rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago and which is celebrated during Hanukkah.
The impact of the Six Day War, however, is more than a military marvel. Rather, the reunification of Jerusalem secured all the sundered links throughout Judaism’s generational history. As Israeli poet Chaim Chefer wrote of soldiers who fought in the Six Day War, “Twenty year-old paratroopers carry 2,000 years on their backs.” Jewish history, like the body after the hand is reattached, was now made whole once more. And proof of renewed strength of Judaism after 2,000 years resounded just a few days later in a reunified Jerusalem, a city in 1967 with fewer than 200,000 Jews.
Fewer than 200,000 Jews. For comparison, in 1904 — two generatons before the Six Day War — New York was already by far the largest city in the United States with a population of 3.5 million people, and it held its first New Year’s Eve gathering in Times Square that year. About 200,000 people attended the inaugural event.
Back in 1967, on the holiday of Shavuot, just days after the end of the Six Day War, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, where only 195,700 Jews lived, was open to the Jewish public for open prayer after nearly 2,000 years. The number of Jews who came from around the world that Shavuot holiday to pray, sing, cry, and celebrate is estimated at 200,000.
That number is more than a symbolic multiple of the two millennia of exile; it is a unique marvel and intrinsic miracle.
National leaders and poets of Israel, from Shai Agnon to Golda Meir to Yitzhak Rabin, captured the momentousness of the gathering at the Kotel with all the glory that language can offer. Few if any of us were there that day, and we rely on their words to imprint the memory within our minds and souls. Yet, we here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – 50 years later – continue the dance and celebration begun at the Western Wall on Shavuot after the Six Day War. We hope and pray that the links of that chain will never be broken again and that we may continue to rejoice not only this year but for all eternity.
Rabbi Moishe Steigmann is the founder and director of The Spark Wisconsin.