The man who sounded the shofar

While Rabbi Shlomo Goren is known as the first person to blow the shofar after the Six Day War, he was not the only one.

Or kuperman (photo credit: )
Or kuperman
(photo credit: )
The most vivid and enduring image of the reunification of Jerusalem is David Rubinger's striking photograph of wide-eyed paratroopers standing in front of the Western Wall. This famous photograph is part of a series that includes several of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief rabbi of the IDF, triumphantly blowing the shofar as he reached the Wall in the company of the Paratroop Brigade commanded by Mordechai Gur, whose immortal words "the Temple Mount is in our hands" caused many Jews around the world to believe that the day of redemption was near. Although Rabbi Goren was the first to blow the shofar at the Wall after the reunification, he was not the only one. Someone else, who had previously dared to blow a shofar at the Wall at a time when it was forbidden, returned 37 years later to blow it again, perhaps with even greater fervor than he had before. Rabbi Moshe Halevi Segal, a prominent figure in Chabad, who had also been active in various pre-state freedom-fighting organizations, had defied the British at the conclusion of Yom Kippur in 1930, by blowing a shofar after the concluding Neila prayers. In those days, there was no plaza in the area in front of the Western Wall. There was just a narrow passageway behind which were Arab houses, whose occupants did not permit the Jews to bring benches, tables or an ark for the Torah to the site. Moreover, that year the British had imposed a series of rules that the Jews found humiliating. Jews were forbidden from praying aloud at the Wall, so as not to antagonize the Arabs. A public Torah reading was not allowed; anyone who wanted to read the Torah had to do so in one of the synagogues in the Jewish Quarter. And of course blowing a shofar was out of the question. Yet for all that, the worshipers who congregated at the Wall that Yom Kippur asked each other anxiously what would happen when the time came to sound the shofar. In his autobiography Dor V'dor (Generation upon Generation) published by the Defense Ministry in 1985, Segal recalled his passionate belief that Yom Kippur could not end without the sounding of the shofar. He duly approached Rabbi Yitzhak Orenstein, whom the Va'ad Leumi (the Jewish umbrella organization with quasi-governmental status) had appointed as rabbi of the Wall, and asked him to give him a shofar. Orenstein didn't want trouble with the British police, but Segal was insistent. The rabbi moved away from the Wall in the direction of the nearest prayer house, and without speaking indicated with his eyes where Segal might find a shofar. Segal followed the direction of the rabbi's gaze, opened a drawer, removed the shofar and hid it under his shirt. Not yet married, and therefore without a tallit, he was afraid that he might be detected before he had a chance to carry out his plan. So he stood alongside a married a man and asked whether he could share his tallit. The response, though couched in surprise, was affirmative, and Segal was able to conceal the shofar until after the closing prayer. He then raised it to his lips, blew as loud and as hard as he could and was immediately surrounded, grabbed by many pairs of hands and arrested. NEWS OF his defiance and his arrestspread quickly. When Chief Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook heard of the episode he had not yet broken his fast, and declared that he would not break it until Segal was able to break his. Kook, a man with more than a little influence, called the British High Commissioner and demanded that Segal be released immediately. The British complied with the request at around midnight. The few hours of detention without food or drink were no deterrent for Segal, who was determined that shofar blowing at the Wall to mark the end of Yom Kippur would become an annual tradition. Each year, he trained two young men to blow the shofar. Because they were different young men each year, the British did not know their identities, and therefore did not apprehend them in advance. Segal was arrested and detained in unpleasant conditions several times in the course of his anti-Mandate activities, but he remained adamant in his commitment to continue the struggle for Jewish statehood in the Land of Israel. After the creation of the state, he and his wife Rachel settled in Kfar Chabad where they raised three sons and three daughters. One of the daughters, Aligal Kaploun, who now lives in Ramot Eshkol and in her 60s, still remembers her father taking her to the Western Wall when she was about five years old. "It was very congested, and it took us a long time to make our way through the crowd, so that we could touch the stones." That was before the War of Independence, and nearly a quarter of a century passed before her father took her to the Wall again. In June 1967, when her father set up house in the Jewish Quarter, Aligal and her husband Uri were living in Melbourne as Chabad emissaries. Immediately after the paratroopers had captured the Old City, her father entered, determined to take up residence. The soldiers on guard were reluctant to allow him in, telling him that they could not take responsibility for his safety. Segal replied that he relied on a higher power for his safety, aside from which he reminded them of the risks taken by so many Jews to bring about the reunification of Jerusalem. "We have received a gift from God," he said. "Do you really expect me to remain outside while the Arabs are still inside?" The upshot was that he was escorted through the streets by an armored jeep. It was inconceivable to him, said Kaploun, that Jerusalem should be reunited without a single Jew living in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Of course the Jewish Quarter was not exactly as he remembered it. In May, 1948, the Jewish Quarter was conquered by the Arab Legion. The Jewish survivors of the battle were evacuated to the newer section of Jerusalem, beyond the Old City walls. Within a few days, Jewish holy places were systematically desecrated, looted and destroyed. Jews had lived in the Jewish Quarter for some four hundred years and had established synagogues, yeshivas, ritual baths, libraries, the Misgav Ladach Hospital and other institutions. Most were devastated. Those that remained were turned into living quarters and stables. After going to the Wall in the company of 18 veterans of Brit Hashmonaim (the religious arm of the Lehi), blowing the shofar, praying and weeping tears of joy, Segal went to look at the Beit Menachem Synagogue, named after Menachem Mendel, the third Lubavitcher rebbe and today known as the Tzemach Tzedek synagogue, the name by which this rebbe is better known. The shell of the synagogue was intact, and Segal immediately decided to restore it to what it had once been. Looking around, he discovered that adjacent to the synagogue was another three-story building that had been Chabad property up to May 1948. It had a basement, a ground floor on which there had been shops and an upper floor in which there were two residential rooms. The building was in terrible condition with lots of rubble, garbage, shrapnel, broken glass and refuse. Segal decided to clean it up and to live there while engaging in his restoration project. In this way he became the first Jew to officially take up residence in the Old City. He wanted to be sure that if anyone came to take a population census, they would be able to say that at least one Jew lived there. His wife, who supported him in all his endeavors, could not initially bring herself to join him. A survivor of the Hebron massacre of 1929, she was still traumatized by the thought of being surrounded by Arabs, said Kaploun. Although Rachel Segal visited her husband from time to time, she allowed more than a year to pass before actually deciding to live in the Old City, preferring to wait until more Jews had moved in. IN JUNE 1967, after learning about what her father was doing, Aligal Kaploun ached to go to Jerusalem. She wrote a letter to the Lubavitcher rebbe explaining how she felt and asked permission to return home. She had hoped that the rebbe would release her from her work in Australia, but the response was negative. He did however allow her to visit with her youngest child who was then eight months old. She could hardly wait to get to Israel. "I thought [the] Messiah was coming, and that it was the time of redemption. I felt so distant in Australia, standing beyond the centrality of what was happening. It was all so far away." After Kaploun arrived in Israel, she and one of her sisters decided to spend a Shabbat with their father. It was already winter, and although he had spent much time and effort cleaning and fixing, he had given more attention to the synagogue than to the living area. The windows in the room in which the two sisters stayed were cracked, and it was bitterly cold. They went to bed in their clothes (including their coats) and literally froze all night. They were so cold that they were unable to sleep. Segal took his daughters on a tour of the Old City, and they noticed that none of the Jews were afraid of the Arabs, even though they were considerably outnumbered. "It was the Arabs who were afraid of the Jews," she recalled. Segal, who had once worked for an architect, had worked with amazing speed on the restoration of the synagogue, so much so that by Rosh Hashana of that first year in the Jewish Quarter, he was able to open it up to worshipers, who included then-president Zalman Shazar, who came from a Chabad background and remained close to the rebbe and to Chabad Hassidim. Segal was aided by Rabbi Aharon Bir, an author and journalist who was an expert on Israel in general and on Jerusalem in particular, and by Rabbi Shimon Haimson, who was born in the Old City and who could trace his pedigree to rebbetzin Menucha Rachel Slonim, the Alter rebbe's granddaughter. Segal discussed his ideas for restoring the synagogue and former Jewish housing complexes with Shazar, who was enthusiastic and who in turn spoke to Ya'acov Herzog (then in charge of the Prime Minister's Office), and to mayor Teddy Kollek and arranged for both of them to meet with Segal. Segal ended up receiving the equivalent of $30,000 for the restoration of the synagogue. He kept the rebbe fully informed of developments. He was also in frequent consultation with Shazar, who told him that it was not enough to merely write to the rebbe - he should go and see him and pour out his heart. Realizing that Segal might not have the financial means for the journey, Shazar took out his check book and wrote Segal a check that would amply cover his traveling expenses. Segal wrote a letter to the rebbe telling him that he wanted to come and visit him. The rebbe intimated that he would be welcome. Segal organized a passport for himself and a visa. The journey was to take place some time in the month of Elul. Segal went to the Wall to pray before the journey. Standing in front of the Wall, he suddenly realized that he could not give up blowing shofar there during the High Holy Days. He understood then that his place was not in America with the rebbe but in Jerusalem, where he could continue to work for the city, the people of Israel and the Torah. He cancelled the trip. After his wife joined him in the Jewish Quarter, the couple lived for a while on Rehov Chabad and then moved to other premises in the quarter. Rachel Segal lived there for 10 years before she died, and Moshe Segal lived there for a total of 16 years. During that period he was involved with many organizations. He was among the leaders of the Temple Mount Faithful and sought many times to have Jewish prayer services conducted on the Temple Mount. He died, ironically, on Yom Kippur, and is buried on the Mount of Olives.