By Anav Silverman
Tazpit News Agency
“It felt like Messiah had come,” says Avigail Shlesinger, 81, of the day Jerusalem was liberated from the Jordan army 46 years ago.
Shlesinger, who is from a six-generation Jerusalem family, recalls what life was like in the Holy City during the time that the Jordanians were in control from 1948 to 1967. “It was a dangerous era,” she tells Tazpit News Agency. “There were areas in the city like King George Street where barriers had to be built to stop the bullets that Jordanian soldiers would shoot towards us.”
“We felt like we were living under siege. It was dangerous to ride on busses and cars because stray bullets could hit anytime,” Shlesinger continues.
“When Jerusalem became reunited, I remember feeling that a very small city had suddenly become large.”
During Jordanian rule, Jews were denied access to the Old City and Jewish holy sites such as the Western Wall and Temple Mount, while Christians were granted only limited access. The Jordanians expelled all the Jewish residents of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City and destroyed 58 synagogues and yeshivas. On the Mount of Olives, 38,000 Jewish tombstones were destroyed with some used to build fences and floor latrines as well as to pave roads for the Jordanian army.
Shlessinger recalls that her grandfather’s yeshiva, Torat Chaim established by Rabbi Yitzchak Winograd in 1886, was the only yeshiva in the Old City during Jordanian rule that hadn’t been burned down. An Arab guard protected the yeshiva and safeguarded 3,000 holy books and the Torah Ark until the yeshiva students returned when the city was reunified under Israel.
Although for three millennia Jerusalem remained the center of Jewish faith from the time of King David, it was not until the Six Day War that the city for the first time in two thousand years had come under Jewish sovereignty. The Israeli government mandated at that time that everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, has the right to visit all holy places within Israel.
Jerusalem Day or Yom Yerushalayim in Hebrew marks the anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem and will be celebrated this year on May 8.
“We went from darkness to light,” concludes Shlesinger. “Today I appreciate Jerusalem so much – just to be able to walk safely on the streets and to pray at the Kotel anytime I want. My grandchildren carry Israeli flags and march in the Jerusalem Day parades. On Jerusalem Day, we celebrate that this city has been home to eight generations of our family.”