Israel celebrates Jerusalem Day, though corona puts damper on festivities

City is set to mark the 53rd anniversary of the liberation and unification of the capital.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Jerusalem is marking the annual celebration of the unification of Israel’s capital city Thursday with the annual parade being replaced by a human chain around the famous Old City – with social distancing observed.

The pandemic has put a huge damper on the annual festivities that commemorate the unification of the city in the 1967 war, when Israeli military forces captured the part of the city that had been occupied by Jordan during the first 19 years of the modern Jewish State’s independence.

Although that actual Hebrew calendar anniversary (28th of Iyar) falls on Friday, health restrictions have forced many of the main events to be canceled or drastically cut back.

The annual flag parade usually sees tens of thousands of people come out as groups from all over the country. They march through the city streets from the side of Jerusalem that was part of the State of Israel from 1948 to the part of the city liberated in 1967, winding up at the Western Wall of the ancient Jewish Temple compound.

With coronavirus health restrictions still in place,  700 people will form a human chain around the Old City but will wear face masks and stay two meters (6 feet) apart from each other to comply with social distancing guidelines.

Traditionally the government holds a cabinet meeting at a city site, but that has been postponed to Sunday mainly due to the fact that the government was sworn in only a few days ago.

The meeting usually is the platform for announcing a big-budget development plan as a gift to the city, but in light of the coronavirus economic crisis and unemployment soaring above 27 percent, it’s unclear if there will a budget for such projects.

Two of the main ceremonies have been scaled down. The commemoration for thousands of Ethiopian Jews who perished on their way to Israel and for those lost in the Six Day War that is held on Mount Herzl will take place without crowds.

The state ceremony celebrating the unification of Jerusalem, which is held on Ammunition Hill, scene of a key fierce battle in 1967, has already been pre-recorded and will broadcast this evening on national TV and radio.

Although the award ceremony recognizing an individual for  outstanding contribution to the city was canceled, the venue where the award is given – the David Tower Museum in the Old City – opened to the public for the first time during the pandemic.

The museum held a social media contest with the first prize being a family luxury campout inside the ancient walls.

The 1967 capture of the Old City from Jordanian control was especially significant because of the centrality of the city to Jewish history and tradition.

Since occupying Jerusalem in 1948, Jordan had barred Jews from areas under their control, including the Jewish Temple compound, Judaism’s holiest shrine.

Since their exile from the land two millennia ago Jews have prayed facing toward Jerusalem, ending prayers on holy days with the call “Next year in Jerusalem.”  Special prayers are recited on Jerusalem Day at synagogues around the country and also in many Jewish communities around the world.