By Rabbi Shlomo Goren, ZT"L
1. First to the Wailing Wall
2. "This Year in the Restored Jerusalem"
3. Rabbi David HaKohen and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook
First to the Wailing Wall
In a private conversation, I told division commander Motta Gur that I had managed to secured a guarantee through operational documents that when we conquer the Old City of Jerusalem, I would be the first to reach the Wailing Wall. To this Motta Gur replied, "If you want to be the first to reach the Wailing Wall, you will have to be on good terms with me."
"Why with you?" I asked.
"Because," he replied, "I am going to be the one who conquers the Old City."
I said to him, "If you promise me that you will conquer the Old City and allow me to be the first person by the Western Wall, I promise to keep on good terms with you."
We shook hands as a sign of accord and commitment. There were two other officers present who heard our discussion. This took place in 1961. Thereafter, Motta Gur changed positions until he finally became commander of 55 Parachute Brigade.
Noontime . . . the armored vehicle came and took me to the museum. There, I found division commander Motta Gur and late deputy brigade commander Moshe Peles. I congratulated them on the task they had been given and on the historic privilege that had fallen into their hands - the conquest of the Old City and the liberation of the Temple Mount and Western Wall. I reminded Motta Gur of our agreement six years earlier regarding my entrance to the Western Wall.
Motta was very depressed. He informed me that he had received orders not to enter the Old City but rather to surround it from all sides. Under no circumstances was he to enter the city. He added that apparently the policy was to leave the Old City in the hands of the city's Arab population without conquering it.
To this I replied that were I in his shoes I would not be able to resist such an historic opportunity to liberate the Temple Mount after two thousand years. After all, what is the worst that could happen? They could put me on trial and perhaps sentence me to imprisonment. Better that I spend my whole life in prison so that Jerusalem and the Temple mount be free than to be free while Jerusalem remained enslaved.
I explained, however, that my comments were in no way an attempt to convince him to go against his orders. I was merely expressing my personal thoughts on the matter at this very fateful hour for the Jewish people. Perhaps, I explained, this is a onetime opportunity given to us by God to return the stolen property of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount to the Jewish people. Missing this opportunity might be an irremissible sin that causes "weeping for generations to come."
Yet, I told him, we have full confidence in the authorities. We are certain that they know what they are doing and that the matter of Jerusalem is as dear to them as it is to us. I added that at any rate he should not despair. I am certain that this historic opportunity will not be neglected. This time we shall merit liberating Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and we must therefore prepare for this from a spiritual standpoint . . .
I saw how one of the paratroopers volunteered to hang the flag on the roof of the Museum. This involved considerable self-sacrifice, for he exposed himself to great danger as he climbed up the topmost spire to hang the flag there. He was exposed to sniper fire from all sides. The Arabs immediately began shooting at the flag from the wall of the Old City. Thousands of bullets were fired for a number of hours but none succeeded in hitting the flag.
"This Year in the Restored Jerusalem"
Meanwhile, other paratroopers began reaching the Western Wall from two directions - from the Mugrabim Gate and from the main alleyway that we generally took to reach the Western Wall. Within 20-25 minutes the entourage of the Deputy Chief of Staff and the Regional Headquarters Commanding General reached the Western Wall Plaza (Motta was not among them, for he apparently remained on the Temple Mount).
I suggested conducting the first prayer service by the Western Wall. Then I recited the "Sehechiyanu" blessing and the "Who Consoles Zion and Builds Jerusalem" blessing. I recited Psalm 84, "How beloved are your dwelling places, God of Legions," and "Ashrei." After this I recited Kaddish for the souls of the fallen and concluded with "El Male Rachamim" to benefit the souls of the holy individuals who fell in "this" war, because as of then the war had no name. As I recited "El Male Rachamim" those present broke out crying. I too became choked up by tears and had to stop in the middle.
Finally, I finished the memorial service and then we all stood at attention and sang "Ha-Tikvah." I kissed the Regional Headquarters Commanding General and other soldiers and officers. Then I began singing, "This year in the restored Jerusalem!" (I changed the wording of the phrase as it appears in the Yom Kippur Neilah service and the Passover Haggadah, "Next year in the restored Jerusalem").
I handed out copies of the Pre-Battle Prayer with a special dedication to the paratroopers who were present. The Regional Headquarters Commanding General ordered the soldiers to move on and continue purging the city. General Narkiss said, "The war is not yet over, and the enemy is still battling in the city. We must continue until it is finished." All the while, there was much sniper fire from all sides. The soldiers laid down on the floor of the Western Wall Plaza a number of times because of the sniper fire, and I stood in the corner and continued reciting Psalms.
Rabbi David HaKohen and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook
After this, a religious paratrooper battalion commander descended the stairway to the plaza. It was deputy Zamush who was just now arriving at the Western Wall Plaza for the first time. He arrived after I finished the prayer service and the General's entourage had dispersed. After lingering for a while he asked me if I would agree to bring the head of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva.
I told him that I would send for my father-in-law, the Kabbalist Rabbi David HaKohen, "the Nazirite of Jerusalem," who had prayed for this moment his entire life, and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook (son of the first Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel), both of whom were heads of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva. I told my assistant, Menachem HaKohen to go and take my vehicle and bring both of them - my father-in-law, "the Nazir," and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook. He went together with my driver and they were delayed for some time.
After about three quarters of an hour, the rabbis appeared - the Nazirite of Jerusalem, my father-in-law, Rabbi David HaKohen and Rabbi Tzvi Yehudah Kook, head of the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva - and these were the first civilians to stand by the liberated Western Wall. We embraced each other, kissed and wept.
I asked Menachem HaKohen what had kept them so long, and he replied that the road was blocked because of the shelling and sniper fire. It was impossible to leave the Old City. He had to take a jeep with a recoilless cannon in order to get through. In addition, the Nazirite tarried because he had to assemble a special court to annul his vow not to leave his house. I gave over my space in the southern corner of the wall to my father-in-law, and he did not move from that spot for a long time. He prayed continuously.
In the mean time, the Western Wall Plaza became filled with soldiers and a few civilians. When the hour became 12:11, which according to the calculation was the earliest possible time for the afternoon prayer service, I began to lead the Mincha prayer. I changed the words of the prayer, adding to my repetition the "Nachem" prayer that we recite in the Tisha B'Av afternoon prayer, and that closes with the words "Who comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem."
I made changes in "Nachem" itself, and instead of "the grieved, ruined and despised city" I said "the city that rejoices and exalts over the victory of Israel" . . . After Chazarat HaShatz (the prayer leader's repetition) I recited the Hallel blessing and the Hallel prayer in its entirety. After the prayer service we began dancing and singing "This year in the restored Jerusalem!" and "Yibaneh HaMikdash!" (the Temple will be rebuilt).
In the middle of the prayer service the military rabbi of the Jerusalem District Brigade, Rabbi Zemel, arrived at the Western Wall and brought with him a portable Holy Ark. It was the property of the Army Rabbinate and bore a large sign reading "Military Synagogue." This was the first Holy Ark to arrive at the Western Wall after its liberation. I had placed the Torah scroll that I brought with me between the stones of the Western Wall upon arriving, and it remained there until the military Holy Ark arrived.