July 12, 2012
From the heart of jerusalem
Struggling for the right to live in the land of Israel
Nineteen hundred and forty two years ago, this week, (on the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz) the end finally began. After two and a half years of siege, the Roman Legions broke through the ancient walls of Jerusalem, and began their savage rampage of pillage and looting through the streets of Jerusalem. Although the walk from the city walls to the Temple mount is a short ten minute stroll, it would take the Romans three weeks to actually set fire to the Temple and end the battle for Jerusalem. Amidst the fire and destruction, Rav Yochanan Ben Zakkai smuggled himself out of the city, realizing the war was lost, and preferring to begin the long and tortuous process of assuring the Jewish people’s survival in the exile.
Nineteen hundred years later, the Jews of Jerusalem again faced that most awful of challenges: to stay and fight, or leave and live to fight another day.
In her book Forever My Jerusalem, Puah Shteiner describes the awful moment as a child, when her parents decided they could no longer risk their children’s lives for the sake of their own ideals. Perhaps they, too, saw the writing on the wall. Surrounded by tens of thousands of Arabs, the two hundred Jewish fighters, defending fourteen hundred civilians inside the Old City, were in desperate straits. Outmanned, outgunned, and completely surrounded, it no longer seemed a matter of whether; it was only a matter of when.
On the 28th of May, in 1948, just two weeks after the declaration of the State of Israel, the Jewish quarter finally surrendered, and as the Jewish community was led out of the Old City, Rav Goetz, who would one day return to become the rabbi of the Kotel, turned and saw the beautiful Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue in flames. Falling to the ground in agony he cried out the age-old adage: “If I forget thee Oh Jerusalem, let my right arm wither….”
And for nineteen years, again, the Old City walls mourned her Jews, who could not come home.