Thursday, May 25, 2006

Yom Yerushalayim, 2002

Four years ago, at the height of the intifada, just after the months where there was a suicide bombing almost every single day, the people of Yerushalayim celebrated Yom Yerushalayim to its fullest. Though everyone knew a victim, they were determined to forge on. It was one of the most inspiring nights of my 2 years in Israel.

One of the highlights every year is the march many hundreds (thousands?) of people make from Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav on the western side of Jerusalem across Rechov Yaffo (Jaffa Street) to the Old City and right up to the Kotel. In the yeshiva, there are a series of inspiring speeches from prominent rabbis and politicians. I must say that most were incredible speakers. With flags waving and loud singing, the crowds make their way slowly down the road, inspiring passerby to join in the march. There are a few vehicles, and I recall a friend jumping on top of one van with a group of guys for a while. There are police and soldiers guarding the yeshiva as the speeches take place before the march (the second year a close friend was on voluntary guard duty before walking with me on the march), and those same police and soldiers keep a sharp watch on the march itself - a march which is a prime target for a suicide bombing.

As the march continued, I remember that our group got slightly ahead of all the others, so we went back to rejoin them. Everyone staying together as much as possible is a theme, as everyone wants to show as much unity as possible. After passing the Tachana Merkazit (Central Bus Station) and Shuk (large Jerusalem Market), we came closer to the "Merkaz Ha'ir" - "Center of the City". Suddenly, the crowd stopped moving, stopped singing cheerfully, and formed a circle. As the circle formed, some people started singing sadly, almost in a lament. We were at the corner of Rechov Yaffo and HaMelech George (Jaffa St. & King George) - on the first Yom Yerushalayim since the infamous bombing of the Sbarro restaurant the previous August. 15 people, including 7 children, were murdered by a suicide bomber as they sat with friends and family in a pizza restaurant; 130 people were injured. Tears were flowing down the cheeks of all those present as the crowd stayed there for around 15-20 minutes before finally moving on. I was standing directly in front of where the Sbarro's restaurant had been (and now, is once again). I am finding it difficult to continue, so I will just sum up the rest of the march: After walking down Yaffo, the crowds walk through the gate into the Old City of Jerusalem. Rather than taking the normal circuitous route to the Western Wall, the crowd is escorted by the police straight through the Arab Quarter, singing all the way; the Arab community is placed under strict curfew on this night every year. After this portion of the march, which takes about 30-45 minutes, everyone finally reaches the security checkpoint. On this morning, I don't recall for certain, but I am reasonably sure they simply waved everyone through. Following this, everyone marches down the steps and up to the Kotel (Western Wall). The singing continues in full force as everyone forms a circle right in front of the Wailing Wall, dancing the night away. Finally, as it starts to get light, the minyanim start in order to daven k'vasikin.

This is too much for me: Suffice it to say that the march was inspiring, the davening incredible.

Yom Yerushalayim Sameach.