On Jerusalem Day Israel celebrates the unity of the city but how unified is it?

By David E. Kaplan

It’s ironic,” says my wife’s nephew  visiting from Philadelphia, “that on Jerusalem Day where do you think in Jerusalem our group was most afraid to walk!”

Not in the Old City but in Mea She’arim; meaning; the supposed threat not from Arabs but from fellow Jews!

Dressing Down. At the entrance, ultra-Orthodox men stand under a sign advising of the strict dress code. (Nati Shohat/Flash 90)

Keith and his wife Caroline Joffe were part of a large delegation from the US  – Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia – which falls under the umbrella organization Jewish Federation of North America – and while the organizers “did not cancel our trip despite the war with Gaza, chose not to cancel our visit to the Gazan border to view the situation following ‘Operation Shield and Arrow’ even though the situation remained tense, but they did cancel our ‘Challah Baking’ tour through Mea She’arim,” said Keith.

God Forbid. The do’s and don’ts in Mea She’arim, a district founded in the late nineteenth century and since then nothing has changed there.

Advertised as “not to be missed”, my American family chose the Challah Bake tour in Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighbourhood instead of the alternate option of the famed Light and Sound Show, and were then told at the last moment:

 “that it was unsafe to go because the last group to visit were attacked by the residents; spat on  and subjected to verbal abuse and there was a strong likelihood of a repetition. We were aghast

Jerusalem Day. The writer’s wife’s family from USA with their Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia group celebrating Jerusalem Day at the Western Wall.

Some in the group were still keen to visit as they felt that as Jews visiting Jerusalem, no visit was complete without a visit to Mea She’arim. Their persistence was met with:

The atmosphere was not right to visit at this point in time.”

The atmosphere was not right on Jerusalem Day? A day that celebrates and commemorates the “reunification” of East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem following the victorious Six-Day War of 1967, 

I was reminded of people I know, people from my youth movement in South Africa, Habonim, who fought in that war and in Jerusalem.

View of History. Standing between models of past warriors, the writer’s wife Hilary (c) with her niece Dee (l) and nephew Keith (r) from the US on the ramparts of the Old City, Jerusalem.

One such is Ian Rogow of Tel Aviv; who in 1967 was a 31-year- old, married with young kids, fighting fiercely on the outskirts of Jerusalem. He recounts the battle in this letter to his family in Cape Town, recorded in a ‘book of letters’ by the late  Muriel Chesler:

On Monday, 5th June, my company was moved after dark to the front where kibbutz Ramat Rachel, east of Jerusalem, forks the border with Jerusalem. That night we took a terrible hammering, and the shells of heavy 120mm mortars and long-distance artillery beat down on us like hail storms.

It was a long night and the machine gun and rifle fire found only brief moments of respite during the dark hours.

I shall carry with me to the end of my days, the memory of the long, drawn-out, sibilant whistle that so ominously precedes the explosion of a mortar shell. At first, you’re frightened as hell, and you strain to push your whole body into your steel helmet like a snail retreating into its protective shell as you dig into mother-earth tighter, and wish your trench was deeper, and you think of God and pray. But you have to fight back, and soon you condition yourself against hitting the dirt with every bone-chilling shriek of an incoming shell.

Back in Battle. Writing to his parents from the Jerusalem battlefield in June 1967, that he hoped that would be the last war, Ian Rogow (left) found himself on the bank of the Suez Canal during the 1973 Yom Kippur War where he is greeted here by the “Father of Modern Jerusalem”, Mayor Teddy Kollek.

By the time dawn broke, Ramat Rachel was safe and by nightfall, we were in Bethlehem; white flags flying from the rooftops and the Royal Jordanian army not in sight. The next day we were in Hebron, and here too, the white flags fluttered prominently from every roof-top.”

The remaining danger, Ian writes were:

 “unseen snipers. We lost many a life to the bullet of a rifle fitted with a telescopic sight and triggered by a well concealed finger.”

Ian concludes this long letter of further wartime encounters through Gush Etzion with:

Let our political successes match our military victory as some small compensation for the heavy price we paidso as not to let down those who gave their lives for the gain we have made by the sword.”

In the heat of battle, prescient prose if ever there was from a war-weary soldier with a young family. Rogow’s message is valid today in 2023 no less than it was in June 1967 as an ever-increasing number of Israelis anguish that the gains won by yesterday’s brave soldiers are not being squandered by today’s foolish politicians. It should be prescribed reading for anyone entering politics to read Barbara Tuchman’s ‘March of Folly’, that reveals through examples of history down the millennia from Troy to Vietnam that governments pursue policies contrary to their best interest. They do so foolishly, knowingly, repeatedly and incomprehensibly they take in the proverbial ‘Trojan Horse’. Attired in alluring political verbiage to appear to “strengthen democracy”, Netanyahu’s “judicial reform” may well prove Israel’s ‘Trojan Horse’.

It does not have to be. What is more important – the coalition or the country?

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).


  1. Whats more important the coalition or the country? is a very loaded question and one can just as easily ask whats more important the demonstrations or the will of the majority as per the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated in favour of the goverment in Jerusalem . As for the fear of visiting Mea Shearim anti reform demonstrators were greeted with Cholent and love in Bnei Brak. Ex Mayor of Jerusalem Barkat had a meeting in Kfar Blum violently disrupted by anti reform demonstrators . Afterwards he said that he fears that the atmosphere that these demonstrations are creating could result in a political assasination . Its time to cool it .

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