Three Yom Yerushalayim stories
Some short stories in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem. May 2007
Beitar is Jerusalem’s local soccer team. Everyone in Israel has heard about this teams’ supporters who have a terrible reputation of being loud, aggressive, rude, abusive, racists and very very passionate. (You may say this is true about all Israelis – but the Beitar supporters are the extreme…)
If things go well Beitar should win this year’s championship even though they have not been at the top since 1997. This should make the supporters happy and content, but it does not. And one could wonder how this is possible? If you read the fan website, the sports columns and listen to the talk on the street, I would say the Beitar supporters are upset by the lack of “neshama” (soul in Hebrew) that dominated the past two seasons. Beitar was purchased in August 2005 by the Israeli Russian Jewish billionaire Arcady Gaidamack (Yes, the same Gaidamack who built the tent camps last summer and relocated the people from the north until the turmoil was over) Mr.Gaidamack fired a few of the team’s icons: the legendary manager – Dadash, the professional manager –Avraham Levi, and a few of the young boys who grew up in the club since childhood – Arbietman, Meir Melikson. But his biggest confrontation with the fans was for firing the coach – Eli Ochanah. Eli was no less than the reigning king of the city. He played for the club from a very early age, leading the team to all four championships in the eighties and nineties. All of these icons were replaced with professional figures from foreign countries and from other cities in Israel. The result was great for Gaidamck, but the supporters miss the good old atmosphere of the small local crazed club. Things have improved in the last six months as Gaidamack hired Yossi Mizrachi as head coach. Mizrachi was the teams goal keeper for 10 years and has restored confidence and stability to the team. For the fans and supporters – winning isn’t everything – it’s how you get there that counts.
The Spearhead Brigade (Chativat Chod Ha-Chanit)
Some one asked me a short while ago “so how do you celebrate Yom Yerushalaim in Israel”? And then I realized that for the last 15 years or so, I have always spent Yom Yerushalayim in uniform….
My reserve paratroopers unit, now known as paratroopers reserve brigade # 623, is the same unit who liberated and unified the city 40 years ago. The brigade – then by the name #55, but with the same logo, and led by the legendary Mordechai (Motta) Gur , was the first IDF unit to enter the Old City of Jerusalem , and earned the glory of being known as the liberators of Jerusalem.
Every Yom Yerushalayim the tradition of our unit is to gather all the officers together in Jerusalem for a full day of activities and ceremonies. We start the morning with a lecture or a workshop at the Ammunition Hill auditorium, followed by a ceremony where the Unit Commander says farewell to the “elders” who have reached the age that they are excused from reserve duty.
At lunchtime busses and cars from all over the country arrive – bringing the “unit veterans” – the original officers who liberated Jerusalem in 1967. The idea is that all the officers, young and old, of the same sub-units walk the routes of the battles and the veterans relate their stories and traditions to the young officers. I always found it amusing, but very exciting to see a group of fairly elderly people walking through the bunkers of Ammunition Hill, the narrow streets of East Jerusalem, and the alleyways of the Old City followed by a crowd of young officers in their twenties listening with admiration, but also with looks of envy on their faces. These old warriors lost a hundred of their friends during these battles, but they liberated Jerusalem and have found an eternal place in the history books.
After the battle route tours all the groups get together for a ceremony at the memorial site of their own sub-unit. Our unit – battalion # 8150 (In 1967 it was #28) get together in front of our memorial site which is just outside the American consulate building in East Jerusalem. There we stand, old and young officers, commemorating the legends and the icons of our unit, passing on the tradition to the next generation, and celebrating our eternal bond to our beloved city.
We all have a place where we spent many hours as children, and that special place usually is full of memories for us.
Without doubt many of my childhood memories are about Ammunition Hill. This famous battle site is where the paratroopers broke through the Jordanian line on June 5 1967. It is now a beautiful park with tall pine trees, paved trails, and a picnic area, and of course, the bunkers and trenches have been preserved as part of the park.
Ammunition hill is located in the heart of my childhood neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol in Jerusalem, and in order for me to reach the school I attended for 6 years, I would traverse the park twice a day, walking to school and back. Apart from being my route to school, the park was also the main gathering place for all our youth movement activities. Our scout’s chapter, where I belonged from 6th grade until I graduated, met every Tuesday and Shabbat afternoon, on Ammunition Hill.
Can you think of a better place for young scouts to meet? All the hours of playing in the trenches and the bunkers, sitting on the lawns listening to our counselors’ stories, exploring and discovering the small caverns and secrets of this hill…. In addition, Ammunition Hill was also the site were my high school’s track team practiced 3 times a week, so for 4 consecutive years, I used to circle the outer paths of the hill, completing the 1500 meters distance, trying to improve my results, and participating in many tournaments and races.
Every inch of this hill has been explored by our young feet, in rain or shine, my friends and I spent endless hours – walking, running, playing, hanging out on this site.
When I left Jerusalem I thought that this would be the end of my encounters with Ammunition Hill, but this did not happen. When I was serving in the paratroopers’ reserves, I found out that my unit is the exact unit that fought there in 1967. From the day I joined the unit I was called each year to visit Ammunition Hill once again, this being the site where our unit holds its annual gatherings on Yom Yerushalayim.
I have great respect for the soldiers who fought and died on Ammunition Hill, and I am grateful that they enabled my friends and I to grow up in the united city, and that their battlefield became a leisure area for generations of young Jerusalemites.
The 40th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem will be celebrated in our community, on Wednesday May 16th, at 7.00 PM at congregation Gesher Shalom, the Fort Lee Jewish center.
Please join us, show your support for Israel and Jerusalem