Op-Ed: Squandering Grace
Aharon Pulver, Israel Ind. FundThe writer is Executive Director of The Israel Independence Fund www.fundisrael.org.
The Israel Independence Fund recently funded the most up to date public opinion poll conducted by Ma’agar Mochot concerning the consistent violation of civil and religious rights on the Temple Mount.
I knew I had to play hooky from school. Jewish destiny was unfolding before my eyes and I would not miss it. During the school day I would have been totally incommunicado. Sneaking a “transistor” into class would be near suicidal and the thought of my math teacher Mr. Fitzgerald’s notorious whack on the head with the huge semi-precious stone of his cheap college ring was far too sobering. I stayed home for several days pretending to be ill, amateurishly feigning a cough and a raspy voice. At night I huddled under the sheets clandestinely with the volume of my made-in-Japan transistor radio barely audible.
And then, on a bright morning that same week, albeit delayed by almost a day, I was rewarded with news that ran through my body like an electric current. I could see the lightning, hear the thunder, feel the salty spray of the parting of the sea on my cheeks. I was intoxicated. The scratchy recording of the event played over and over again on the radio and in my head. Prophesy was being fulfilled before the eyes of the world.
The center of my Jewish being that wondrous June in 1967 was Roosevelt Synagogue …a Yiddish speaking shtiebel in the Bronx with the oddest of names imaginable…however in those days New York City Jews were born Democrats, weren’t we?
My father (of blessed memory) was the “Yankee” of the shul, one of the only adult members born in the US, among the very few who spoke fluent English. It was to my father that fell the honor of going up to the bimah less than 10 days later, on Shabbat, with small index cards outlining his address that were meticulously typed by my mother (of blessed memory).
My parents worked together on his speech late into the nights of the preceding days, bringing together his born-on-the-lower-East-Side-selling-newspapers-on-the-subway-at-8-years-old New York toughness and my Mom’s uncanny ability to grasp both the spiritual and the temporal with equal brilliance.
Pop began with a whisper, using all his oratorical skills, knowing that soon he would pounce upon his listeners like they were prey, spearing their hearts with a voice like thunder and words like fire. I was transfixed by his words and hypnotized by the silken blue and white flag on the right of the Bimah waving gently in the hot summer breeze pushing through the windows. Fulfilling its intended design, the flag wrapped me like a Tallit within its folds.
That hot summer day was made all the more intense by the emotions evoked. Decorum was forgotten as ties were unknotted, jackets removed, and sleeves rolled up. The women peeking through the lattice work separation feverishly fanned themselves with kerchiefs and cheap oriental paper fans. My father’s voice moved from plaintive to defiant within a brief minute.
Our most holy site freed!
Freed by Jewish heroes of unimaginable courage - inspired, crowned with victory.
Freed! For the all too numerous rivers of blood. For the endless insults suffered and for the countless tears shed. For the pennies they threw at us to see if we would bend down to pick them up, and for picking them up and throwing them back. For surviving.
Freed! For continuing to praise His Name. For millennia of prayer and learning, for untold charity and good deeds. For keeping faith, for the unbroken chain.
Freed! For the defiance and the bravery and the sacrifice.
Freed! For those who came before us and for those to come after. For all the generations, now freed!
For Dayan, the Holy of Holies was in the fields of Nahalal, Degania and Beit Alpha.
Our Rabbi opened the Holy Ark. Everyone stood as one leaning forward as if grasping for the fringes of the unfolding miracle itself. We stood in an intoxicating spiral of time - at one with our paratroopers, pilots, soldiers and sailors, so many of whom gave their lives to do His will, to crown our People with the ultimate victory. Our martyrs and heroic fallen from time immemorial stood among us in the heat of that Bronx shtiebel. I knew it, We all knew it.
But what we did not know was that very day we squandered grace!
The same day we stood in awe in our shtiebel in the Bronx, the same day a sea of Jewish pilgrims flooded Yerushalayim to feel the beat of our now freed heart, the same day Jews around the world gathered in their synagogues and homes to pray for the fallen and give thanks, that same Shabbat, June 17, 1967, then Defense minister Moshe Dayan entered the Al-Aksa Mosque “to talk”.
In an act that defines stupidity, Israel’s then Minister of Defense sat down on the prayer carpet with leaders of the “Supreme Muslim Council” (the Waqf) of what had been Hashemite (Jordanian) occupied Yerushalayim. Dayan had already ordered our flag removed from the Temple Mount on the very afternoon of the Old City's liberation.
For Dayan, the Holy of Holies was in the fields of Nahalal, Degania and Beit Alpha. Before the shloshim for the fallen he handed our astounded enemies the very victory they had understood to now be lost to them forever. Administrative control over the Temple Mount was to be the sole responsibility of the Waqf! Decades of further humiliation were insured.
On that very day, we squandered grace!
And so it is to this day. Jews are humiliated daily, followed by officials of the Hashemite Wakf who judge their every step and the very movement of their lips and by the Israel Police who are apparently ordered to by our government to enforce draconian measures deemed “necessary to maintain public order”.
Fact: Jews are not permitted to pray, in any manner or form, even in a murmur.
Fact: Jews are not permitted to carry prayer books or any books of a religious nature.
Fact: Jews are not permitted to bow or prostrate themselves.
Fact: Jews are not permitted access throughout the day
Fact: Jews are not permitted to study text.
Fact: Jews are not permitted to linger.
Jews are not even permitted to use toilet facilities controlled by the Muslim Wakf. For those who dare to exercise their civil and religious rights as guaranteed by the Israel Supreme Court and the K’nesset and murmur a prayer their lot is verbal abuse, physical violence, detention, arrest!
In Hevron, in the Cave of the Machpela, at the graves of our forefathers and mothers, we were relegated for centuries to the humiliation of non-access, the physical proximity of Jews limited to a very real seventh step of a staircase leading to a side entrance.
For centuries the Muslim occupation of Hevron was the cause of daily abuse and humiliation visited upon countless Jews. In 1967 that changed. While far from ideal, Jews now have access to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs. While far from ideal, we no longer cry bitter tears of exile on the seventh stair like orphaned children begging for morsels from the plates of our tormentors in order to survive yet another dismal day!
The center of our individual and national being, the focus of our prayers and worship, the very heart of Jewish Peoplehood is Har HaMoriah, The Temple Mount. Now more than ever it is up to us to insure our civil and religious rights in our holiest of sites…if to praise, if to supplicate, if to connect, if simply to do justice in here and now of the spiral of time.
As we are duty bound to safeguard the civil and religious rights of minorities we are no less obligated to insure our own civil and religious rights. As we are duty bound to acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who fell for our freedom and national liberation we are no less obligated to confront past mistakes and make them right in order to truly honor their sacrifice and memory!
And we are duty bound never again to squander grace.