Most Israelis not in the mood for Jerusalem Day

By Nathan Jeffay, June 2, 2011
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In the few years after the Six-Day War, it was an almost-spontaneous celebration. Yom Yerushalayim captured the sense of relief that Israel had triumphed against possible destruction, and jubilation that all of Jerusalem was in Jewish hands.

Wednesday was the 44th Yom Yerushalayim - the anniversary of the 1967 reunification of Jerusalem - and how things have changed. For the majority of Israelis, the day went past unmarked - in stark contrast to the recent holidays which were observed everywhere, namely Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut.

For the first three decades after the Six-Day War, Yom Yerushalayim actually had a greater ability to unify the Jewish population than any of these three holidays. This is because while Charedim have mostly shunned these days, many celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, as they see religious importance in the restoration of access to the Western Wall and other holy places.

If you were in the Old City on Wednesday, watching the throngs of flag-waving youngsters celebrating the day, it was easy to get the impression that nothing has changed. But while there are celebrations in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, or in the rest of Israel, they are less common every year. It is the "national holiday" that is fast becoming a regional holiday.

For the majority, the day went past unmarked

The one group retaining it as a truly national holiday is the religious community. Synagogues across the country recite special prayers and hold celebratory events.

How is this change explained?

In part it is a natural historical process - the feelings of impending danger felt before the Six-Day War and the jubilation afterwards are fading, and simultaneously, Israelis, like people elsewhere in the West, are becoming less ideological.

It is also related to the demographic changes in Jerusalem - the fact that the city is becoming more Orthodox, and many secular Israelis' connection to their capital is waning.

And it is closely bound up with politics. The majority of Israelis regard the 1967 war as an important victory, are happy that Jerusalem is united, and wish it to remain so. But at the same time the international and domestic controversy over the occupation and the building in Jerusalem means that while people are not opposed in principle to a holiday commemorating the 1967 victory, they just are not in a mood to celebrate it.

    Last updated: 1:17pm, June 2 2011