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Judi's Journal 6-1-2012

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Wall of Tears, Wall of Triumph

By Judi Siegal

It was an event that rocked the world and sent Jewish pride up to a new level. The event established the State of Israel as a military force to be reckoned with and set the stage for other victories to follow. Its military and political implications were extraordinary but not to be neglected was the impact it had on Jewish religious theology, for in six days the Lord created heaven and earth and all it contained and in six days the Israel Defense Forces conquered all their enemies and on June 7, 1967, 45 years ago, liberated the City of Jerusalem and freed the Temple Mount.
The historic event was described in a radio broadcast heard on Israeli airwaves. In a cry that stirred the Jewish nation, Colonel Motta Gur shouted, “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” Brigadier General Shlomo Goren, who later became Chief Rabbi of Israel, approached the sacred mount, recited the El Molay Rachamin prayer for the fallen soldiers and blew a triumphant blast on the shofar. Soldiers, who were not even religious, wept at the emotional capture of the very center of Jewish worship from ancient times and recited the Shecheianu, the prayer for thanksgiving for joyful events. General Goren recited: “Blessed are You who comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem.” The Old and New City of Jerusalem were now united and the Jews, denied access to the most holy site in Judaism for 19 years, The Western Wall, were now able to visit the sacred spot.
The Western Wall or Hakotel Hama’aravi is the last remaining remnant of the Second Temple built by Herod. In 70 C.E. the Temple was destroyed by the Romans, the Jews were forced into exile and were without a homeland until 1948. In 1948, Jerusalem was captured by the Jordanians and the city was divided into the Old and New cities, with the Western Wall in Arab hands. Jews were denied access to the holy site until June 7, 1967 when the Israeli Army liberated the area during what would be called the Six Day War.
For centuries, the Western Wall has been a focus of prayer and emotion. In the Middle Ages, it became known as the Wailing Wall because so many Jews came there to weep over the loss of their Temple and their sovereignty as a people. Since the unification of Jerusalem, the term has negative connotations and its use is discouraged.
The Wall itself actually has three layers, because like many sites in Israel, it was built on top of an existing structure. The Wall extends some 60 feet below. It was actually a retaining wall to the Second Temple and legend has it that it was built by the poor people. Excavations around the area have revealed valuable artifacts dating back centuries.
Today people visit the Western Wall, as I have done, to pray and meditate. It is a site sacred to the three Abrahamic faiths and I have stood side by side with Christians who have worshipped at this sacred place. I have also witnessed bar mitzvah ceremonies taken place there. As in traditional circles, a separation, divides men from women worshippers. In recent years, a courageous group of women, called the Women of the Wall, have sought and received permission for holding all-female Torah services at the Temple Mount. Sadly, this has been received with anger by some conservative Orthodox Jewish groups, and scrapes and violence erupted.
Visitors to the Kotel, often leave little prayer petitions in the cracks. Symbolically, I believe that is what keeps this 2,000 plus year old wall from falling down. It is believed that God answers prayers left at the Wall. The former governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, had one of his aides leave a prayer for our state at the holy site. I believe we escaped serious hurricanes that year!
Legend says that on the fast day of Tishah B’Av, the 9th of Av, the day the Temple was destroyed, the dew that clings to the Wall are actually tears she is shedding.
Even as Jerusalem lay in ruins, the rabbis of the Talmud taught that the Temple was not destroyed for the Shekhinah (the Divine Presence) still dwells within.
May the Shekhinah, whose Presence has never left the sacred site, continue to watch over Jerusalem and may she lead all the people of this holy city to a new era of peace and understanding.
Judi is a former teacher and Jewish educator.  She lives in Sun Valley with her husband, Phil.