Yitzhak Yifat doesn't remember taking off his helmet seconds after his paratroop brigade captured the Western Wall in the Six-Day War twenty years ago. He barely recalls a fellow soldier sharing the moment by clasping his shoulder. And he certainly doesn't recollect a photographer snapping a picture of him as he stared up at the holy site.
What he remembers is all of Israel's history passing by.
"I saw Roman horse riders trampling people. I saw the war of the Maccabees, the concentration camps and the 1948 War of Independence when supplies couldn't reach Jerusalem. I saw all of these things in my imagination," he says now.
The scene made history. Yifat's awestruck expression reflected the fledgling Israeli nation's own euphoria over the reunification of Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty for the first time in 2,000 years.
The photograph appeared throughout the country -- in newspapers, on posters and later in books about the war. Yifat had suddenly become more than a soldier who participated in an extraordinary event. He became a symbol.
The picture, he says, "has not given me any rest since."
Now 44, married and father of three daughters, the graying, paunchy Yifat -- a gynecologist -- is still stopped on the street and identified as the soldier who liberated the Old City of Jerusalem.
"But I don't feel that I personally liberated Jerusalem," he says, taking time out from underlining his obstetrics textbook to speak about the war and the photograph. "I was just a part of a chain."
He adds that at times he is taken aback when Arabs identify him from the photo. To them, he symbolizes Israeli domination of the Holy City.
To his chagrin, the photograph has also become a symbol that others have eagerly tried to exploit. At one point, a cigarette company used the picture in its advertisements. Yifat said he was extremely upset when a political movement printed the photograph in its campaign material. Another time, an Israeli newspaper reporter wrote an inaccurate story claiming that Yifat and his family had left the country.
The renowned photograph originally appeared in a Polish language newspaper in Israel, according to Yifat. "When I first saw the photo, I said to myself, 'How did I get there?' "
The picture also crept up on photographer David Rubinger, who was photographing the war for the Israeli army as well as for Life magazine. At the time, he thought his best shot was of then chief army rabbi Shlomo Goren blowing the shofar at the site minutes after it came into Israeli hands. It was only after he had developed his film that it became apparent that the scene of Yifat and his comrades was far more powerful.
"Actually, it was my wife who said that the guy with the helmet was more impressive," admitted the 63-year-old Rubinger, who came to Israel in 1939 from Vienna. Now he works for Time magazine.
The unit Rubinger photographed was one of the last to be mobilized for reserve duty in the weeks preceding the war. When the fighting actually began, it headed south to fight in the Sinai. But halfway there, it was abruptly instructed to go to Jerusalem.
"We got our orders on very short notice. We didn't know the area. I knew El Arish better than Jerusalem," recalled Yifat, who was born and raised in Tel Aviv.
After a bloody battle at Jerusalem's Ammunition Hill, the paratroopers entered the ancient City of David and reclaimed the Western Wall.
Though overwhelmed at the time by a sense of history, Yifat was less than euphoric. His battalion had suffered many losses, and some of his closest friends died in the battle for Jerusalem. While the Six-Day War was won swiftly and equated with a modern-day miracle, Yifat's own attitude was far more sober.
"I really wonder if all of those people had to die for a miracle," he said.
Today, Yifat is deeply disappointed with the "commercialization" of the Western Wall, noting that secular Jews such as himself have ceased feeling comfortable there.
Noted Rubinger: "We missed the opportunity to make it a wall of peace. That is a great misfortune."
While Rubinger's historic photograph was the cause of Yifat's unexpected fame, the two have never met.
And despite the fact that the walls of Yifat's own home are covered with paintings and drawings, the doctor does not own a copy of the photograph that captivated the imagination of millions of Jews around the world.
"We don't need a photograph," said Yifat's wife Hasia as she affectionately glanced over at him. "We have the original."