I’m a huge basketball fan, and, as much as I have enjoyed watching the Last Dance – a look at the career and personal life of Michael Jordan and his last season on the Chicago Bulls – I really look forward to Bill Simmons’ podcast unpacking each episode. One of my favorite segments he does is called “What if?” What if Michael Jordan missed that shot against the Jazz? What if head coach Phil Jackson did not institute the ”triangle offense”? What if Scottie Pippen had been given the contract he deserved? What if?
The list goes on and on, cementing the idea that there are certain moments which define history. In hindsight, we tend to take those moments for granted. Asking “What if?” allows us to imagine a world that might have looked differently if not for some subtle but earth-shattering moment. That is why shows like The Plot Against America, The Man in the High Castle, and Hunters capture our imaginations – not because they are so fantastical, but because these alternate histories might have been possible.
For Israel, 72 years after declaring statehood, the list of “What if?” moments almost feels endless, but there is one that stands out to me above all others: Israel’s decisive victory in the Six-Day War in 1967.
What if Israel did not preemptively strike the Egyptian air force and take an insurmountable lead in the Six-Day War before it even started?
During this war, Israel tripled its size, and the Jewish people regained autonomy over their holiest sites. Egypt was humiliated, Syria lost the Golan Heights to Israel, and Jordan lost control of the West Bank and the eastern part of Jerusalem to Israel.
What if Jordan (the country, not the player) had stayed out of the fighting like Israel had hoped?
For the Palestinians, Jordan’s part in the defeat became known as the Naqsa, meaning the “Setback” (not to be confused with the Naqba, the “Catastrophe”) as the West Bank and Gaza came under Israel’s control following this war.
For world Jewry, Israel’s stunning victory meant a new self-confidence. Jews started wearing yarmulkes in the streets, and magen david necklaces were all of a sudden en vogue.
What if Israel did not win this war?
With no disrespect meant to Yom Ha’atzmaut and its wonderful and important activities and celebrations, but from a religious perspective, Yom Yerushalayim is an opportunity to celebrate the return to our holiest sites and to ask the toughest questions. What does it mean to return to a land that has millions of people who do not share in the national aspirations of the Jewish people — and have dreams of their own?
For this Yom Yerushalayim, make sure you celebrate the day. Watch our videos on the Six-Day War and the history of Israeli settlements, and use our educational resources.
What if we celebrated Yom Yerushalayim like we celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut?
Yom Yerushalayim Sameach,