Remembrance Day

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In Jerusalem, a journalist saw a very old Jewish man who had been praying at the kotel for a long, long time. So she went to check it out. After he was done praying, she approached him for an interview.

– Sir, how long have you been coming to the Wall and praying? – asked the intrepid journalist.
– Every single day for about 30 years – the old man said.
– 30 years! That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
– I pray for peace between all mankind, and I pray the nations of the world leave us in peace to live our lives in our land without war and prejudice,” explained the man patiently as he folded his tallit.
– And how do you feel, after doing this for 30 years? – pressed the reporter, tape recorder in hand.
– Hmmm – he responded – I feel like I’m talking to the wall.

This Sunday night is Yom HaZikaron – a day when we remember fallen soldiers and victims of terror. A day when we contemplate all those precious lives lost either in the defence of our homeland, or just by living there when others do not wish us to.

When we think of the Holy Land of Israel our thoughts turn to the golden city of Jerusalem. Once there we focus on the Temple Mount, site of the binding of Isaac, of Jacob’s dream, and of the two Holy Temples, and then we focus on a famous wall – known to us as the Kotel and to others as the Western or Wailing Wall – surviving remnant of the glorious Beit HaMikdash destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.

Three thousand years ago, King David purchased Mount Moriah and made Jerusalem his capital. His son Solomon built the Holy Temple, a focal point for the Divine on this world, and there the Jewish people nation gathered together three times each year on Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot – the “foot” festivals.

Throughout history Jerusalem has been attacked and destroyed time and again. And through it all, one symbol always remained: the Western Wall.

During the 2,000-year exile, Jews would travel to Jerusalem at great expense and danger, just to have a chance to pray at the Wall. Nothing could stand in the face of this fervent desire, not the law of the land, nor the lack of water and supplies or even the fear of disease or attack. Whatever the difficulties – the Jews always returned.

The Talmud teaches that when the Temple was destroyed, all the Gates of Heaven were closed, except for one: the Gate of Tears. Through the ages countless millions of tears have been shed at the Wall, tears of pain, suffering, prayer and yearning as we poured our hearts out to God. These rivers of tears earned it the name “the Wailing Wall.”

In the Six Day War, Israeli paratroopers entered the Old City through the Lion’s Gate. “Har Habayit b’Yadeinu!” – was the triumphant cry over the radio by “Motta” Gur, commander of the 55th Paratroopers Brigade – “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”. As the shofar sounded, grown men wept and danced at the Western Wall. After 2,000 years, Jerusalem was finally united under Jewish control, with free access for all people and all religious.

The Western Wall is not simply a historical site. It is a symbol of who we are and where we come from. The stones of the Kotel carry us back to the promise G-d made to our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – the promise of a Land of Milk and Honey, of a land to call our own.

I am talking about the Kotel now because of an incredible madness that has taken over the world. The constant and unending delegitimisation of the Land and the People of Israel.

No matter that we are under daily threat from our regional neighbours, no matter that we are under threat of nuclear attack from Iran, no matter that Gilad Shalit has been kidnapped and held without ANY access from the Red Cross or International NGO’s for almost four years. The single solution to all of the world’s ills – of which there are many – seems to lie at the door of the Chosen People.

Just few days ago  in Dublin the Irish Congress of Trade Unions met in Dublin castle. Amidst all the available crises they could choose to discuss they picked the most important – boycotting Israel – almost the only country in the region with its own active trade union movement. And if it is not a trade boycott being discussed, tomorrow it will be an academic boycott – whatever works.

The latest in this list of shameful attacks on Israel is so incredible it seems like a bad joke: but it is true. The ASA, the British Advertising Standards Authority has banned an Israeli tourism advert showing a picture of the Kotel as part of the itinerary; Why? – because of course the Kotel is in “occupied” East Jerusalem.

So – not only do we not have the Beit HaMikdash, and not only is the site of the Beit HaMikdash out of bounds to Jews, but we are not even allowed to lay claim to the outer boundary walls of the Beit HaMikdash and to advertise it as part of Israel! – absolute madness.

I would like to close with a description by Moshe Amirav, a paratrooper, of his first minutes at the Wall after its liberation:

We ran there, a group of panting soldiers, lost on the plaza of the Temple Mount, searching for a giant stone wall. We did not stop to look at the Mosque of Omar even though this was the first time we had seen it close up. Forward! Forward! Hurriedly, we pushed our way through the Magreb Gate and suddenly we stopped, thunderstruck. There it was before our eyes! Gray and massive, silent and restrained. The Western Wall!

 

Slowly, slowly I began to approach the Wall in fear and trembling like a pious cantor going to the lectern to lead the prayers. I approached it as the messenger of my father and my grandfather, of my great-grandfather and of all the generations in all the exiles who had never merited seeing it – and so they had sent me to represent them. Somebody recited the festive blessing: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe who has kept us alive, and maintained us and brought us to this time – shehecheyanu, vekiyimanu, vehigiyanu lizman hazeh. ” But I could not answer Amen. I put my hand on the stones and the tears that started to flow were not my tears. They were the tears of all Israel, tears of hope and prayer, tears of Chasidic tunes, tears of Jewish dances, tears which scorched and burned the heavy gray stone.

Friends, let us pray that by the time Yom Yerushalayim arrives, 3 weeks from now, we will once again celebrate at the Western Wall – but this time from the inside, with a rebuilt Beit HaMikdash in all its glory – whether the ASA approves or not!

Rabbi Zalman Lent

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