Each year, Israelis celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, to commemorate the reunification of their capital city after the Six Day War in 1967. Celebrated on the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar—or sometime in mid- to late-May—Jerusalem becomes the centerpiece for a massive nationwide birthday party.
After Israel was declared an independent state in 1948, it was attacked by five Arab countries, in what is called the War of Independence. After the fighting ceased, certain parts of Jerusalem, i.e., the Old City and East Jerusalem, were no longer under Israeli control. Several Jewish and Christian holy sites, including the Temple Mount, the Western Wall (Kotel), and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, were under heavy guard and therefore inaccessible to worshippers. Between 1949-1967, Israel was under constant attack. Tensions climaxed on June 5, 1967, when Israel was forced to defend itself against Syria, Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq, and after a period of six days, the Israel army had conquered the Sinai Peninsula, the Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, and the West Bank. The army also recaptured the Old City, and with it, the Western Wall, leading to the reunification of Jerusalem as part of Israel.
On May 12, 1968, the Israel government established Yom Yerushalayim—Jerusalem Day—as an official national holiday. It holds a hallowed place in the hearts and minds of Israelis and many people worldwide.
While Yom Yerushalayim is primarily observed in Israel, it is also celebrated in synagogues in the United States and throughout the world, with special prayers being recited. In Israel, the day is marked by memorial services and state ceremonies. Throughout Jerusalem and across the country, visitors can also take part in special events, concerts, tours, live music, exhibitions, workshops, and much more. And while schools close for the celebration, businesses typically remain open. It is a day of joy for the city and the streets are full of outdoor stages with music filling the air.
If you are in Jerusalem during Yom Yerushalayim, you can also follow the March of Flags, a parade featuring patriotic Jerusalemites and other participants carrying Israeli flags and chanting national songs in celebration. The parade ends at the Western Wall (Kotel), a symbol of freedom, the holiest site in Judaism.
Celebrants often hear the enduring words of Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, who announced Israel’s victory:
“This morning, the Israel Defense Forces liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned to the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again.”
Yom Yerushalayim presents a unique opportunity for Israel’s citizens, and visitors as well, to pray according to the Scriptures for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122). The holiday is justifiably a day of great joy and is likewise a stark reminder of Jerusalem’s age-old challenges and struggles. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you have peace. May there be peace within your walls, serenity within your mansions” (Psalm 122: 6-7, Kehot Publication Society).