It was a day that no Jewish heart can forget. From the time of the Romans to the Ottomans to the British—strictures had been placed on what Jews could and could not do at the Western Wall. Benches and tables were mostly banned; at times it was the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn) or the mechitza that divides men and women at prayer services. For two decades, the Western Wall had been in Jordanian hands and completely inaccessible to Jews. And then came the Six Day War and suddenly, the Western Wall was in Jewish hands. Every Jewish soul responded – from the Hasidic Jew to those with no Jewish identity at all . Some understood. Others did not but their souls did. In a scene that was repeated many times over, the inner soul cried out:
“I want to say a prayer. What should I say?”
“Say Shma!” (universal Jewish prayer)
“But I don’t know how!”
“I’ll help you. Shma…”
All eyes were filled with tears. These hardened soldiers were unable to speak. They had one desire only to grab hold of the Wall and hold on tight. And there it was, in all its splendor. They were overcome and bowed their heads. Many of those heads had never been graced with a yarmulka (skullcap) but somehow knew that this…this was real.
The alley in front of the Western Wall was barely 15 feet wide. Even before the war was over, a group began clearing the area in front of it for a plaza. They began immediately after the Sabbath on June 10, and finished bulldozing the Mughrabi Quarter at 3 a.m., thus creating the Kotel plaza as we know it today which accommodates 60,000 people.
Eliyahu, a holocaust survivor, was one of those men. He was young and vibrant, sitting on top of his tractor doing his part as a loyal son. Today, 52 years later, he is no longer young, no longer vibrant. But that glorious day in history is as clear in his mind as the day it happened. And he yearned to visit the kotel once more, to witness the thousands that congregate on the area that he helped clear. His voice was wistful as he expressed his desire to the Ezer Mizion volunteer who had been visiting him regularly. On his own, it was impossible but with the help of the varied Ezer Mizion divisions, it all fell into place. An appropriate companion was found, all logistical hurdles were overcome. And there he is waving to us as his wish is about to come true.