JERUSALEM (JTA) – The three Israeli paratroopers whose photograph has symbolized the Jewish return to the Western Wall were back there on Jerusalem Day at the exact hour when they liberated the site 50 years ago.
Yitzhak Yifat, Tzion Karasenti and Chaim Oshri joined thousands of Jews from around the world to mark Jerusalem Day.
“Returning to the Kotel with these people was almost as exciting as my first time,” Karasenti, the first paratrooper to reach the Western Wall in 1967, said in a statement. “To see the joy in their eyes, being with the three of us on this momentous occasion made the moment even more special.”
Natan Sharansky, chair of the Jewish Agency and a former Soviet refusenik, recalled what the reunification of the city did for Soviet Jewry.
“When the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces broke through the gates of Jerusalem’s Old City, they also punched a hole in the Iron Curtain, inspiring us Soviet Jews to start our struggle for freedom,” Sharansky said in a statement. “This struggle, supported by Jews around the world, ultimately brought down the Iron Curtain and enabled a million Jews to come home to Israel.
“Sadly, there remain many around the world who deny our connection to this land and to our holiest city, including in international forums. It was therefore deeply gratifying to see the President of the United States make a point of visiting the Western Wall and emphasizing the centrality of Jerusalem to the Jewish people throughout his time in Israel. Peace will not come to this troubled region through the hateful denial of historical facts, but rather through the acceptance of the Jewish people’s ties to this land and the legitimacy of our sovereign presence here.”
Among those on hand at the Western Wall were the participants in the World Mizrachi Movement’s Yom Yerushalayim 50 Mega-Mission. British Chief Rabbi Efraim Mirvis, and his predecessor, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, accompanied the group from the religious Zionist umbrella organization.