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Reunification of Jerusalem Celebrated at Citywide Event

May 24, 2007 By:
Ryan Teitman, JE Feature
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On the day of Uriel Palti's Bar Mitzvah in 1967, his elderly grandfather shared with him his doubts that he would ever see the holy sites of the Old City. Still, the older man said, he held out hope that one day, his grandson might be granted that great gift. (Beginning in 1948 with the establishment of Israel, many sacred religious sites in the Jordanian-controlled parts of the city were off-limits to the Jews.)

But just two weeks after his Bar Mitzvah, explained Palti -- Israel's consul general in Philadelphia -- his family, including his grandfather, walked through the streets of the newly unified city of Jerusalem, thanks to Israel's decisive victory in the 1967 Six-Day War.

At the celebration of the 40th anniversary of that reunification, held May 15 at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington, Palti and others shared both the history of the city they love and some of their personal experiences.

A crowd of nearly 500 barely fit into the auditorium, coming from all over the region -- from many different congregations -- to celebrate the momentous event.

Through songs, stories and images, the attendees got to see just how much passion people share -- both those born in Israel and those within the Diaspora -- for the city considered the heart of Israel.

Renee Fields of the Jewish National Fund remembered when she was a young girl how her father had stayed glued to the television during the Six-Day War. (Her family had arrived in the United States when she was 5 years old as Jewish refugees from Egypt.) After the Battle at Ammunition Hill, Jerusalem was successfully reunified under Jewish rule for the first time in 2,000 years.

"Strategically, this site was crucial," she said of the battle locale, but the odds had not been in the Israelis' favor. "For all intents and purposes, this battle should not have been won."

But the paratroopers were determined, said Fields, and they won the day. That dedication still continues, she added, through the example of soldiers like Bucks County native Michael Levin.

The 22-year-old served with the elite paratroopers, and was killed last summer during the war with Hezbollah.

"They knew what was needed," said Fields of Israel's soldiers, "even sacrificing their lives to keep Israel alive."

While some sacrificed their lives for the tiny state, others throughout history struggled against impossible odds just to reach their homeland. Rabbi Albert E. Gabbai of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia recounted the long, winding trek of the Sephardic Jews from Toledo, Spain, after their expulsion in 1492, to their final destination of Jerusalem.

For some, it's difficult to put into words their passion for the city. "How do you convey a 3,000-year-old love affair?" asked Beth Am's senior rabbi, Robert S. Leib. The importance of the city, he noted, is of both history and hope -- as "the city of our past, our present and our future."

"It's the soul of the Jewish people," said Dresher resident Carol Stein, referring to Jerusalem, after the festivities. "Even people who don't realize it are affected by it." She's been to Israel 22 times in 15 years, and said she understands the importance of the city to all religions.

The evening at Beth Am provided a variety of entertainment, from music to storytelling to short films. Tzvia Wexler managed the entire program, and sang along with the Beth Am adult choir, children's choir and Beth Sholom Youth Choral.

With this community-wide event, Wexler said she wanted to show how significant Jerusalem is -- not just to the Jewish community, but to the whole world. She based the celebration on one she has put together each year at Mikveh Israel. This time, she wanted to bring the program out to the suburban community, and Leib welcomed her with open arms.

And the program was not only a way for her to share her passion for Israel, said the sabra who's lived in Philadelphia for the last 18 years, but to keep it in her heart as well. "When I can't get to Israel, I try to bring Israel here."

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