Marchers remember Six-Day War

Nearing 40th anniversary, congregants, students take to street in hope of peace in Israel

May 21, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,SUN REPORTER

Under gray skies threatening rain, about 1,000 members from more than two dozen synagogues and nine Hebrew schools wore T-shirts the color of the Israeli flag and marched yesterday for peace and solidarity in Israel and the Middle East, the youngest ones scrambling behind on small bikes.

They waved flags and sang about unity to mark the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War, in which Israel gained control of eastern Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. The roughly two-mile march along Park Heights Avenue in Northwest Baltimore was followed by a crafts fair, both of which were sponsored by the Baltimore Zionist District.

Moshe Passe's parents had told him what the day was about. At the very least, he recognized the blue-and-white flag taped to his bicycle: "Israel," the 5-year-old said.

But when his father, Saul Passe, asked his son why he thought everyone had gathered on the lush lawn outside Temple Oheb Shalom, his son said: "I have no clue."

The echoes of the war that started June 5, 1967, continue to reverberate across the Middle East. Many of the tenuous peace processes that have been on again and off again since the 1970s have been attempts to resolve the land disputes stemming from Israeli control of those occupied territories.

Yesterday's march for solidarity took place as sobering events unfolded overseas: news services reported that eight people were killed yesterday in an Israeli airstrike against the home of an Islamic militant group leader in response to repeated rocket attacks at Israel.

Israeli diplomat Rafael Harpaz said it was a day to get beyond the politics to celebrate the day "when Jerusalem became a free place for all religions - Muslims, Jews, Christians," he said.

Harpaz was 6 years old during the war. He remembers hearing the bombs and the artillery battles with Jordanian troops that occupied Jerusalem at the time.

He said he also remembers the elation he felt on the morning of June 6, when by 10 a.m. Israelis had control of the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

In a few months he'll take his 12-year-old son to the Wall for bar mitzvah, a coming-of-age rite for Jewish boys, who are considered to reach maturity at 13.

"There was an existential threat for Israel. Our children don't know that reality of not being able to pray where you want," said Harpaz, who heads the public affairs office at the Israeli Embassy in Washington and is a liaison between Maryland and Virginia and Israel. "They grew up in a different reality. Events like this help remind them of the struggle."

Einat Refaeli, an emissary who spent three years in Baltimore to raise awareness about Israeli culture and custom, worked for weeks with organizers from the Baltimore Zionist District to turn this piece of Northwest Baltimore into Israel.

In Israel, the anniversary of the Six-Day War sparks festivals in the street and brings brightly costumed dancers and singers from around the region and world to the Holy City, Refaeli said.

Yet, celebrations of the event in the United States had been restrained and quiet, she said, mostly contained to solemn services in synagogues. For the 40th anniversary, Refaeli sought to help the Jewish community here (which is thought to be as large as 100,000) to have a more lively celebration.

She hired musicians who played African drums and wooden rattle instruments called guiros. She had caterers come with 300 pounds of ice for snowballs and make hundreds of kosher hot dogs and hamburgers.

She helped organize arts and crafts tables for children, complete with stations to make mezuzas, small cases filled with Hebrew scripture that hang on doorways of Jewish homes.

"It's a time of happiness and celebration in the streets, not just in the synagogues," Refaeli said. "I wanted to just bring the celebration outside."

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