On Tuesday night, at the Western Wall Plaza in Jerusalem, I think I may have witnessed a foretaste of the messianic era. It was the eve of Jerusalem Day, marking the liberation and reunification of the city during the 1967 Six-Day War, when young Jewish paratroopers, armed as much with faith as with firearms stormed the enemy’s positions and unshackled the Temple Mount from nearly two millennia of incarceration under foreign control.
From across the country, thousands of Israelis streamed into the square in front of the Wall, anxious to commemorate the 43rd anniversary of this historic event and bask in the aura of this holy place. Some wore jeans, others wore dark suits or black caftans. But whatever their choice of outer attire, all were drawn for the same inner reason: to affirm our indestructible bond to Jewish history as well as our unshakeable faith in Jewish destiny.
The Wall stood there in all its grandeur and I could only marvel at the thought of all the despair and dreams, the hopes and horrors that it must have beheld over the centuries. Indeed, its jagged grooves and soft cool crevices seem to have been chiseled not by the hands of ancient workmen, but by the generations of tears that surely streamed down its façade.
But on this very special night, the massive stones would shine with sheer delight, as a remarkable and uplifting scene unfolded. A large group of yeshiva students from the Ma’arava high school near Modi’in swayed back and forth, deeply into the evening prayers with their black hats perched atop their heads and dress jackets clinging to their shoulders. At the conclusion of the service, they began to sing, forming a series of concentric circles which slowly shuffled about, revolving in loop-like fashion with solemn intensity.
Nearby, a crowd of students from the capital’s religious-Zionist Horev
school made their way towards the Wall, and the contrast between the
two could not have been more striking. With their knitted kippot and
sandals, and slightly disheveled teenage look, the Horev boys looked
ever so informal. They proudly sported white T-shirts with slogans on
the back in Hebrew that said, “There is no Zionism without Zion,” and
they were aflame with patriotic fervor.
The Ma’arava students, by contrast, projected formality and reserve,
with their dress shoes, white button-down shirts and dark slacks.
AND THEN, it happened. As if by some unexplainable force, the two
groups were drawn together. Enlarging the circles and joining hands,
they proceeded to dance, and sing, and celebrate in unison.
All ideological and theological disagreements, all politics and mutual
suspicion were cast aside, as the young scholars of Horev and Ma’arava
joined arms – literally and figuratively – to rejoice in Jerusalem.
Faster and faster they went, picking up speed with each circuit, as
their voices rose in a thunderous crescendo. “May this be an hour of
mercy,” they pleaded with the Creator, “and a moment of acceptance
before You,” as the seemingly myriad schisms that divide our people
Onlookers stared in amazement as haredim and religious Zionists, “black
hats” and “crocheted yarmulkes,” held onto each other and with a
familial grip, revealing the brotherly instinct within.
Suddenly, the circles converged, enveloping two men at their center:
Rabbi Baruch Chait, founder of Ma’arava, and Rabbi Yitzhak Dor, rosh
of Horev. They reached across the divide, and toward one
another, and started dancing with all the passion and zeal of two young
grooms. Their faces ablaze with joy, these two spiritual teachers gave
all those present a tangible lesson in Jewish unity.
Inspired by the scene, their students began chanting a paraphrase of
the words traditionally recited in the Sabbath musaf
Sephardim: “Together, together, all of them together, shall thrice
repeat with one accord the holy praise unto Thee,’ with a clear and
very vocal emphasis on the word “together.”
The purity of the moment was overwhelming, and I have no doubt that God
looked down from heaven like a proud father enjoying the sight of His
children bonding collectively in one accord. Herein lies one of
Jerusalem’s greatest and most intimate secrets: its ability to unite
Jews from across the widest of spectrums.
In just a few years from now, the bulk of those Horev students will be
taking up arms to defend the state, while many of those in Ma’arava
devote themselves to the study of our people’s ancient texts. They will
vote for different parties, live in different communities and largely
refrain from marrying into one another’s families.
But for a brief instant this past Tuesday, all that seemed very remote.
At the sight of such overwhelming Jewish fraternity, I was sure that
the long-awaited Redeemer was about to arrive. Senseless love took the
place of senseless hatred where our Temple once stood.
Yet there was no sounding of the great shofar that night, nor did the
messiah appear. The dancing eventually faded, and people went home,
going their separate ways. But that evening, I am certain, I caught a
powerful glimpse of our Redemption, when all Jews will unite to serve
God and embrace one another.
If we could just translate that moment from passing into permanence, if
we could simply gaze beyond all the disparities. Then, perhaps, that
glimpse might finally become the enduring fixture we all long to see.