Every city has its symbols, be they landmarks or logos, which our minds immediately conjure up when thinking of a certain metropolis. The mere mention of New York, London or Rome can evoke a range of visual or verbal imagery, which reveals much not only about the city itself but also how each of us might perceive it in our own unique way.
Jerusalem, whose liberation and reunification by Israel in 1967 we celebrate today, is of course no exception. For some it is the Holy City, with the Western Wall, the tomb of King David and other sacred sites. For others, it is the seat of Israel's government, home to the Knesset and host to a variety of national institutions such as Yad Vashem.
Indeed, Jerusalem is many things to many people, which is part of its attraction and its mystique. But as many of us know, it is also a place that somehow touches the inner depths of our souls unlike any other in a way that is often difficult to articulate.
That is part of Jerusalem's power, in that it speaks to us as individuals but also summons our collective memory as a people.
Therefore, as I ponder the significance of this date, the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar, when Israeli troops defeated the Jordanian occupying army and restored the Old City to Jewish control, I find myself coming back again and again to the idea of the closing of a vast and ancient series of meta-historical concentric circles.
On a simple level, this would appear to be fairly obvious. The fact that in Jerusalem you might be walking on a spot where King David once stood, or Jeremiah prophesied or the Maccabees waged war, is enough of a reason for us to appreciate how blessed our generation has been. After 1,900 years of exile, we have returned to our source, never again to be uprooted from this land.
But I think there is a deeper force at play here, one far more profound and inspiring that says a great deal regarding not only Jewish history but also Jewish destiny.
This is best encapsulated in an article I came across in the May 30, 1997, edition of the now-defunct daily newspaper HaTzofeh, which recounted the story of Yoram Zamush, the soldier who raised the first Israeli flag over the Temple Mount after its liberation.
On that fateful day of June 7, 1967, Zamush, who served as a company commander in Battalion 71 of the IDF Paratroop Brigade, was celebrating his 25th birthday.
It was a day rife with meaning for his family, for on the very same date that he had been born back in 1942, 19 of Zamush's relatives were murdered by the Germans in the Lodz Ghetto in Poland, their bodies tossed into a mass grave.
And here he was, precisely two-and-a-half decades later, about to lead Jewish soldiers in the battle to retake Jerusalem.
CONSIDER THE chilling irony: His relatives back in Europe had been confined to a ghetto by barbed wire, while Zamush and his men, upon reaching the Old City, "had to break through about eight rows of barbed wire" to advance.
In the Beit Hakerem neighborhood, Zamush and his unit had set up a temporary headquarters in the home of the Cohen family. When the grandmother heard what they were planning, she handed Zamush a hand-drawn flag that she had made upon making aliyah in 1947 and said to him, "If you reach the Temple Mount and Western Wall, raise this flag there."
So Zamush took the flag and went to war, engaging in heavy fighting for many hours against the Jordanians and losing one-third of his unit. Eventually, as he advanced into the Old City followed by his men, Zamush raced to the Temple Mount where he was the first to arrive.
"They took the Mount," the article in HaTzofeh noted, "and found some Jordanian soldiers hiding in the Dome of the Rock."
Asked to describe his feelings at that moment, Zamush recalled, "I felt that at long last we had settled a score with the soldiers of Titus. It was the first time since the Temple had been destroyed by Titus that Jews, and Jews with weapons no less, walked freely on the Temple Mount. Suddenly," he added, "I remembered Grandma Cohen's flag and proceeded to unfurl it over the Mount and the Wall. Two thousand years of yearning, hope, planning and love for Jerusalem preceded that moment, along with the blood of our best fighters."
As if that were not remarkable enough, the power of this story is further amplified by a passage in the Talmud in Tractate Taanit (29a), which describes the destruction of the two Temples by the Babylonians and the Romans, both of which occurred on a Saturday night. Nevertheless, the Levites on duty were inexplicably reciting the Song of the Day for Wednesday.
Why that was the case only became clear in 1967.
As Rabbi Nachman Kahane of the Young Israel of the Old City explains, the song for Wednesday is Chapter 94 of the Book of Psalms, which begins with the words, "O God of vengeance, Lord, O God of vengeance, appear!"
The Levites, seeing what was about to occur, were issuing a last-minute plea to God to avenge the capture of His Holy Temple, hence they chose to recite the Song of the Day for Wednesday. And, as the rabbi points out, the day upon which the Israeli Army liberated the Temple Mount was June 7, 1967, which, of course, was... a Wednesday. Coincidence? I think not.
Clearly, the liberation of Israel's capital not only marked the closing of a personal historical circle for Yoram Zamush and his family. It is also signified the repair of a set of larger, collective ones as well; a series of circles encompassing all those Jews down through the ages who longed and prayed for Jerusalem yet did not merit to see her.
These circles extend all the way back across the centuries to those brave Levites who, in the face of Roman conquest, gave us a glimpse of a brighter future.
So the next time you think about Jerusalem, take a moment and reflect beyond the daily and the mundane. For beneath the surface, the beauty of this very special city and its history, like that of a circle, lies in its wholeness and completion.