For two thousand years of exile, our people have prayed.  We have prayed – not to return to the land of Israel, but to return to the holy city of Jerusalem, Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh!  “Please turn Your wrath and anger away from Jerusalem, Your holy mountain…And now, our G-d, heed Your servant’s prayer and pleas, and let Your face shine on Your desolate Sanctuary, for Your sake, O Lord…” (Tachanun Prayer)

When Jews began to return to the land of Israel after the destruction of the first temple, Nechemiah came to the land of Israel and saw a community in crisis.  What was the cause of their difficult situation?  Nothing other than the degradation of Jerusalem: “The remnant that are left of the captivity there are in great affliction and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire…” (Nechemiah 1:3) When Jerusalem is desolate, so are we; only with its rebuilding can our people regain its strength.

When the Independence War ended in 1948 with the Old City of Jerusalem in Jordanian control, our joy was muted; when Jerusalem was liberated nineteen years later, our joy knew no bounds!  Even today, 53 years later, every Jewish heart beats faster when we hear those awesome words: “Har HaBayit b’Yadeinu”, “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”

Yom Yerushalayim, the return of our people to our holy city, is not merely a miracle of our generation; it is a miracle that belongs to all generations.  As R’ Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “We did not enter the city of Jerusalem on our own in 1967.  Streams of endless crying, endless praying, clinging, dreaming, day and night, midnights, years, decades, centuries, millennia, streams of tears, pledging, waiting – from all over the world, from all corners of the earth, carried us of this generation to the Wall, to the city of Jerusalem.”

Sing out, O barren one who has not given birth; break into glad song and be jubilant, you who have not been in birth travail.  For the children of the desolate Jerusalem will outnumber the children of the inhabited one, said Hashem.  Broaden the place of your tent and let the curtains of your dwellings stretch out, stint not; lengthen your cords and strengthen your pegs. For you will burst out to the right and to the left your offspring will inherit nations, and they will settle desolate cities.” (Isaiah 54:1-3)

We, the beneficiaries of generations of longing and prayer, are witnessing the words of Isaiah come true before our eyes!  We walk without fear through our holy city, on the streets that our grandparents only dreamed of!  Tonight, as we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, how can a Jew not bow his head in awe and thanks?  If we Jews of this distracted generation are not overwhelmed with gratitude for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, it is we who are blind.  If we do not hear the footsteps of the Messiah approaching, it is we who are deaf!

Together with our joy, we must always be conscious of the great sacrifices made by so many of our brothers and sisters in the IDF, who have given their lives to liberate and defend our land.  Last week, Amit Ben Yigal, a 21-year-old soldier from Ramat Gan, his parents’ only child – was murdered by a rock throwing Palestinian in the Shomron.

Only a few weeks before his death, on Yom HaZikaron, Amit wrote a powerful post on Facebook:

Every year since I can remember, on the eve of Memorial Day for Fallen IDF Soldiers, something grabs hold of my heart. I cannot remember one occasion on which I have not been moved to tears. Something grabs my heart and squeezes it tight…  It is never looking behind you because you know the entire nation is with you. It is hearing the national anthem and getting goosebumps. It is not letting who you are interfere with who you could become…  I am Amit Ben Yigal and I am proud to be part of the Golani Brigade, proud to be part of a years-long tradition, to follow in the footsteps of many before me and be a role model for those who will follow…”

We pray for the day when our return to Jerusalem will be complete, with the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the return of all of our people to our holy city – a day when we will know no more tears, when all those we have lost will be returned to us.  May we soon see that day!

Yom Yerushalayim Sameach!