Larry DomnitchLarry Domnitch is an educator and the author of "The Cantonists: The Jewish Children´s Army of the Tsar", released by Devora Publishing. He resides in Efrat.
When Shavuot arrived in 1948, it was a month after the establishment of the State of Israel, and Jews could no longer continue to make the pilgrimage to the Western Wall. The Jordanians, who occupied the eastern half of the city since the War of Independence, blocked all rights of passage to Jews. However, the pilgrimage to King David?s tomb on nearby Mount Zion, located on the Israeli side of divided Jerusalem, continued. Over the next nineteen years, crowds made their way to Mount Zion, where they could view the ?Old City? and 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 Israeli 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 millennia. It was one of those rare, euphoric moments in history.
From the late hours of the night, thousands of Jerusalem residents streamed towards the Zion Gate, eagerly awaiting entry into the Old City. At 4 a.m., the accumulating crowds assembled 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 that historic moment. As the sun rose, there was a steady flow of thousands who had made their way towards 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 on 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 prams, 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 the police to regulate the flow.?
An eyewitness described the moment as follows:
?I?ve never known so electric an atmosphere before or since. Wherever we were stopped, we began to dance. Holding aloft Torah scrolls 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.?
On Shavuot three thousand two hundred and seventy nine 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 of the Six-Day War, multitudes ascended to the Western Wall, as their ancestors had done in the past, and they celebrated the holiday just a short distance from the Temple Mount. They, too, felt the magic of the moment.
Larry Domnitch is an author and educator who resides in Efrat.