The traditional Jerusalem Day celebrations at the flagship religious Zionist yeshiva, Merkaz HaRav Kook, took place on Sunday evening so as not to cause desecration of the Sabbath.
This year, in addition to words of Torah about the city, dancing and joyous song led by famed clarinetist Musa Berlin and singer Akiva Margaliot, they included an historical revelation by the head of the yeshiva and an emotional declaration of loyalty to united Jerusalem by the Prime Minister himself, who vowed "I will never forget thee, O Jerusalem" and spoke of the international pressures to give in on the city with which he is confronted - receiving a loud burst of applause from the packed audience.
The celebrations, as always, were attended by the Chief Rabbis and the most renowned Torah luminaries in the religious Zionist world, as well as high ranking public figures including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Education Minister Gideon Saar, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, MK Zevulun Orlev.
Rabbi Yaakov Shapira, the head of the yeshiva, told the Prime Minister that he has found a letter of gratitude sent by the Prime Minister's grandfather, Rabbinic scholar Natan Millikowsky (who changed the family name to Netanyahu) to Israel's Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, founding head of the yeshiva, after asking him to see that justice is done to Abba Ahimeir, the Revisionist Zionist accused of murdering Labor Zionist leader Chaim Arlozorov, killed while walking with his wife on the Tel Aviv beach in 1933.
Netanyahu's own father had gone to the PM's grandfather for help, stating that he had met with Ahimeir at Zion Square in Jerusalem shortly before the murder, so that it was physically impossible for Ahimeir to be in Tel Aviv when the assassination took place. He said that no one would listen to him, and the elderly rabbi turned to Rabbi Kook, who saw to Ahimeir's vindication by himself, putting himself on the line (The sensational murder, which caused severe rifts in the rival Zionist movements, with Labor accusing Jabotinsky's followers of perpetrating it, has never been solved).
Rabbi Millikovsky also asked Rabbi Kook to write Ahimeir a letter of encouragement while he was imprisoned.
Netanyahu, visibly affected, said that he knew the rudiments of the story from his father, for whom he sat shiva less than a month ago, but had not known of the existence of the letters.
Rabbi Shapira used Torah references to remind the Prime Minister pointedly that he must have courage and show leadership, as did King Hezekiah of yore, to leave standing all Jewish construction in Eretz Yisrael, saying that Jerusalem symbolizes the entire country and that Beit El and Jerusalem are one. He reminded him that the word Ulpana means a place of learning, a clear reference to the Ulpana houses in Beit El, to Migron and other disputed communities in Judea and Samaria. He told him to follow in his late father's way, saying that he spoke in the name of all those Jews in Judea and Samaria and the entire Jewish people..
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said during the celebrations, “Jerusalem needs people with power and self-sacrifice such as those who defended the Jewish Quarter in 1948 or those who liberated the city 45 years ago. At a time when we are threatened from the outside and are weakened from within, we need to be clear: We’ve returned to Jerusalem and we will remain there.”
He added, “We will not be frightened by ‘marches on Jerusalem’ of various kinds, by political provocations, by boycotts and by schemes. Some say that Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is the main factor to foment tension and wars in the region and globally, and I say that a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty is the only guarantee for peace and is the embodiment of justice.”
Rivlin expressed regret that “in recent years there has been a public weakness in respect to our right to Jerusalem. Former prime ministers had been engaged, both secretly and openly, in negotiations over Jerusalem. This obfuscation of our right to Jerusalem...weakens our hold not only on Jerusalem but on the entire land of Israel; it creates a large gap in our children's Jewish identity.”
Education Minister Gideon Saar said, “Our obligation to protect Jerusalem is related to our ability to tell ourselves, as well as strangers, the facts and insist on the truth, and that is that not only is Jerusalem mentioned in the Holy Book, but also that Jerusalem has never been the capital of anyone other than the Jewish people.”
He added, “We need to repeat these facts in the face of the lie imposed by our enemies - Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians and the entire Arab world. Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. It has been our united capital for more than 3,000 years and it will not be divided again.
“For the past three years, half a million students visit Jerusalem every year and experience it through their own eyes and feet, and today for the first time fifth graders participated in a nationwide contest on Jerusalem and its history,” noted Saar.
NIr Barkat, Jerusalem's mayor, spoke of the centrality of the yeshiva and of his plans for the development of the Holy City.