When the Kotel Came Back to Us


When the Kotel Came Back to Us


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Opinion & Society

Magic of the Moment

By Larry Domnitch

Over the centuries Jews have made pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the holiday of Shavuot as they had on all three pilgrimage holidays. On Shavuot, there was also the custom to visit the grave of King David since tradition holds that he was born and died on this holiday.

When Shavuot arrived in 1948, a month after the establishment of the State of Israel, Jews could no longer continue to make the pilgrimage to the Western Wall because they were denied access under Jordanian occupation. (1948-1967) However, the pilgrimages to King David's grave on nearby Mount Zion continued. Over the next nineteen years crowds of pilgrims made their way to Mount Zion. From there they could see the Old City and view the Temple Mount.

On the morning of Shavuot, June 15 1967, just six days after the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem following the Six Day War, the Old City was officially opened to the public. For the first time in almost two thousand years, masses of Jews could visit the Western Wall and walk through the cherished streets of Judaism's capital city as members of the sovereign Jewish nation. Each Jew who ventured to the Western Wall on that unforgettable day represented the living realization of their ancestor's dreams over the millennium. It was one of those rare euphoric moments in history. In the late hours of the night, thousands of Jerusalem's residents streamed toward the Zion gate eagerly awaiting entry into the Old City. At 4 A.M., the accumulating crowds at Mount Zion were finally allowed to enter the area of the Western Wall. The first minyan (traditional quorum of ten men) soon began. Fifteen hundred people shared in that unprecedented moment. as the sun rose, there was a steady flow of thousands of Jews who made their way to the Old City. In total, two hundred thousand Jews visited the Western Wall that day. It was the first pilgrimage en masse of Jews to Jewish controlled Jerusalem for a Jewish festival in two thousand years, since the pilgrimages for the festivals in Temple times.

The Jerusalem Post described the epic scene:

" Every section of the population was represented. Kibbutz members and soldiers rubbing shoulders with the Neturei Karta. Mothers came with children in arms, and old men trudged steeply up Mount Zion supported by youngsters on either side, to see the Wall of the Temple before the end of their days. Some wept, but most faces were wreathed in smiles. For thirteen continuous hours a colorful variety of all peoples trudged along in perfect order, stepping patiently when told to do so at each of six successive barriers set up by police to regulate the flow." (Jerusalem Post, July 15, 1967, 1)

An eyewitness described the moment as follows:

"I've never known such an electric atmosphere before or since. Wherever, we were stopped, we began to dance. Holding aloft Torah schrolls we swayed and danced and sang at the tops of our voices. So many of the Psalms and songs are about Jerusalem and Zion and the words reached into us a new life. As the sky lightened, we reached the Zion gate. Still singing and dancing, we poured into the narrow alleyways beyond." ("Voices of Jerusalem-Crowd of Tears," Hadassah Magazine 77, no.9 'May 1996': 23.)

On the day of Shavuot 3,320 years earlier, the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai and felt the gravity of the moment as a unique relationship was formed between themselves and their Creator. On the day of Shavuot following Israel's amazing victory in the six day war, multitudes ascended to the western wall as their ancestors had done in the past and they also celebrated the holiday just a short distance from the Temple Mount. They too, felt the magic of the moment.

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Larry Domnitch is the author of,"The Jewish Holidays: A Journey Through History", recently released by Jason Aronson publisher


from the May 2000 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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