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The Magic of Shavuot 1967

Over the last two millennia, Jews have vis­ited Jerusalem in honor of the festivals, in lieu of the Biblically ordained pilgrimages. On the holiday of Shavuot there was also the custom to visit the grave of King David on Mount Zion, since according to tradition the date of his birth and passing was on Shavuot.

When Shavuot arrived in 1948, it was one 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. However, the pilgrimage to King David’s tomb on near­by Mount Zion, located on the Israeli side of di­vided Jerusalem, continued. Over the next 19 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, Jerusa­lem was officially opened to the Israeli public. For the first time in almost 2,000 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 ancestors’ dreams over the millennia; it one of those rare euphor­ic moments in history.

From the late hours of the night, thousands of Jerusalem’s residents streamed towards the Zion gate, eagerly awaiting entry into the Old City. At 4 a.m., the accumulated crowds were fi­nally allowed to enter the area of the Western Wall. The first minyan soon began. Over 1,500 people shared that special moment. As the sun continued to rise, there was a steady flow of thousands who made their way to the Old City. A reported 200,000 visited the Western Wall on that day. It was the first pilgrimage, en masse, of Jews to Jewish controlled Jerusalem on a Jewish festival since Temple times.

The Jerusalem Post described the epic scene: “Every section of the population was represented—kibbutz members and soldiers rubbing shoulders with 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 13 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: “I’ve never known so electric an atmosphere before or since. Wherever we 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, 3,279 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.

By Larry Domnitch

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