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October 7, 2019 7:13 am

Yom Kippur 1967: The Return to the Western Wall

avatar by Larry Domnitch

Opinion

A general view shows thousands of Jewish worshippers attending the priestly blessing on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, September 26, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad.

On Yom Kippur in 1967, thousands arrived at the Western Wall for the concluding prayers and to hear the long awaited sound of the shofar.

Prior to the advance of Israeli paratroopers into the Old City of Jerusalem in June 1967, the Western Wall area had been occupied by Jordan and off-limits to Jews.

The 20th century was a transitional time for the land of Israel, and the Western Wall had been under many rulers, from the Ottoman Turks, to British Mandatory rule, to the Jordanians.

Yom Kippur of 1929 followed the devastating pogroms in the land of Israel. Death and destruction was incited largely by the vehement anti-Zionist Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Amin Al-Husseini. In the aftermath, British authorities allowed the Mechitza (dividing screen between men and women) at the Western Wall, which was prohibited the prior year. Still, the sounding of the shofar was prohibited, due to pressure from the Mufti and his cohorts. That decree remained in effect throughout the years of the British Mandate.

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The independent State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948 and preserved only through desperate defense in bloody conflict. But despite valiant efforts to hold onto it, the Old City fell to Jordanian forces. The Western Wall was then declared off limits to Israelis and Jews.

For the next 19 years, the Western Wall remained that way. When Yom Kippur arrived, the wall stood in solitude, devoid of its faithful. Jews could only gaze from afar — from the Israeli side of the armistice line.

However, that would soon change.

Upon the victory of Israeli forces in the 1967 Six Day War, and the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Jews once again had access to the Western Wall. That Yom Kippur, thousands arrived to the recently expanded plaza to pray.

As the concluding Neilah prayers began, the crowd had grown to 10,000.

Many had arrived to participate in the concluding prayers and to hear the sound of the once forbidden shofar. Joining in attendance were Knesset members, rabbis, and the mayor of Jerusalem.

As the Neilah concluded, the blast of the shofar, which was prohibited for almost four decades, was sounded. The crowd burst out singing the prayer, ‘Next Year in Jerusalem,’ which immediately follows the Neilah service.

After the conclusion, the crowd in unison began chanting Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, and then “Ani Maamin” (I believe), the statement of faith in the eventual arrival of the Messiah as enunciated by Maimonides. It was a declaration for the present and a prayer for the future.

Over the centuries, Jews could only dream of observing Yom Kippur like that of 1967 at the Western Wall.

Larry Domnitch is an author and instructor of history at Touro College.

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