It is April 29th-April 30th of 1948, the fifth day of the Omer, Chol HaMoed Pesach.
The city of Jerusalem is in a terribly challenging position. The Jews living in Rehavia, in the center of the city, are cut off from the Jews living in Makor Chayim and Ramat Rachel.
Arab Legion troops occupy the San Simon Monastery in the neighborhood of Katamon, and from the top of the monastery, they are able to, with sniper fire, pick off anyone who attempts to bring food to the Jews of Rehavia, Makor Chayim or Ramat Rachel. (In fact, “Katamon” is Greek for “by the monastery”, in this case, the San Simon Monastery.)
In response, the Jewish fighters of the Palmach decide to capture San Simon. They send 120 fighters to besiege the monastery.
One of the fighters throws a grenade into the monastery and it hits a room filled with fuel, creating a bright light, taking away the surprise of the darkness and allowing the Arab Legion soldiers to pick off many of the Jewish fighters who are trying to enter San Simon.
Out of the 120 fighters, 21 are killed and 83 are injured. The Palmach commander decided that the remaining soldiers should retreat in order to be able to be used in a more effective way to help protect the civilians of Jerusalem prior to the formal declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel, which would occur two weeks later.
At the same time, there was a concern: what would happen to those who had been too severely injured to be transported? If the Arab Legion were to capture them, they would burn and destroy them.
It was thus decided to create the “Masada of Jerusalem”. The commander of the fighting unit, a survivor of Auschwitz who had also witnessed Palmach colleagues burned by Arab Legion soldiers, decided that the fighters who could still leave on their own would leave along with those who had been lightly wounded.
The remainder of the wounded would stay with him, and he would prepare dynamite for the infirmary at the monastery. In the event that Arab Legion soldiers would overrun the property, he would detonate the building so that the Jews would not be placed in the hands of the Arab Legion fighters.
At the same time, Arab Legion reinforcements were on their way from Chevron. But the Gush Etzion fighters, several days before they would be decimated, were able to fight off the Legion, preventing them from coming to reinforce the battles in Jerusalem.
The Arab Legion, after hearing what happened with the fighters from Gush Etzion, decided to stop their advance on the San Simon Monastery, and instead retreated to the Old City.
And so the San Simon Monastery, with only a limited amount of fighters still able to literally walk, was saved. And the Jewish populations in the center of town (Rehavia) as well as in Makor Chayim and Ramat Rachel were able to replenish the food that they needed in order to be able to survive, not only for Pesach, but afterwards.
The gift of Jerusalem: the gift that HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave us:
“ושב ה’ אלוקיך את שבותך”
“And Hashem your God shall restore your captivity.”
Indeed, according to the Jewish Agency, in 2020, 47% of the Jewish people have already begun to live in the land of Israel.
And by 2038, it is estimated that 74% of the population of the Jewish people will live in the State of Israel.
In 1883, there were no homes in Jerusalem outside the walled city. In 2022, the joke in Jerusalem is that the national bird is the crane, because there is no block in Jerusalem in which building is not happening.
“עוד יקנו בתים ושדות וכרמים בארץ הזאת”
“Once again” – God proclaims through his prophet – the Jewish people “will purchase homes, fields and vineyards throughout Israel.” [Jeremiah 32:15]
We celebrate that gift that God has given us, of bringing Jerusalem together, on Yom Yerushalayim: we are now the “Startup Nation”; we have a strong economy.
According Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 1967, there were 200,000 people living in Jerusalem. Today, there are close to a million people in Jerusalem.
Yet the challenge of Jerusalem is still before us: because while Jerusalem is supposed to be a place that brings us together – and while God has done his part, as is evident, such as miracles that happened at the San Simon Monastery – we have not yet done our part.
We have not yet come together. And even though it is a united city, geographically, it is not yet a united city, spiritually.
There are still skirmishes by the Kotel. There are still issues in the way we talk to each other.
Yes, Yom Yerushalayim must be a celebration of the gift that God has given us. But it also has to be a celebration of the responsibility that we have – once God has given us this gift – to do our part, how we talk to each other, how we engage with each other.
It is the message of Sefirat HaOmer, with the overlay of the new Chag, Yom Yerushalayim.
Please God, wherever we live in the world, we will celebrate the unity of Jerusalem in the way we talk to each other and about each other.
And we will recognize that unity requires us to be able to understand, that despite any of our differences – with all the different denominations, or the way we as Orthodox Jews celebrate – what we have as a united community is so much stronger.
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh Yeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone (www.ots.org.il), an Israel-based network of 27 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He was formerly Vice President of Yeshiva University for University and Community Life and before that, Dean of the David Mitzner Dean of YU’s Center for the Jewish Future.