By Michael Freund
This past 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 Yom Yerushalayim, the day marking the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War, when young Jewish paratroopers armed as much with faith as with firearms stormed through 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 to 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 to this spot 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 the horrors that it must have beheld over the course of the centuries.
Indeed, the jagged grooves and soft cool crevices in the Wall 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 rapidly unfolded.
A large group of yeshiva students hailing from the Maarava high school near Modi’in swayed back and forth, deeply ensconced in the evening prayers with their black hats deftly perched atop their heads and dress jackets clinging tenaciously 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 kipot 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 Maarava students, by contrast, projected formality and reserve, with their dress shoes, white button-down shirts and dark slacks conveying a seriousness of purpose and resolve.
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 the ideological and theological disagreements, all the politics and mutual suspicion were cast aside, as the young scholars of Horev and Maarava joined arms – literally and figuratively – to thank G-d and 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 routinely divide our people melted away in the heat of Jewish harmony.
Onlookers stared in amazement at this scene, as Haredim and Religious Zionists, “black hats” and “knitted yarmulkes”, held onto each other firmly and with a familial grip, revealing the brotherly instinct that lay within.
Suddenly, the circles converged, enveloping two men at their center: Rabbi Baruch Chait, the founder of Maarava, and Rabbi Yitzhak Dor, the Rosh Yeshiva of Horev.
They reached across the divide, and toward one another, and started dancing with all the passion and zeal of two young grooms on their wedding day.
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 Mussaf prayers by 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 G-d 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 of 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 donning green uniforms and taking up arms to defend the state, while many of those in Maarava 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 beneath the silhouette of where our Temple once stood.
Yet there was no sounding of the great Shofar that night, nor did the Messiah abruptly appear. The dancing eventually faded out, and people inevitably 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 G-d and embrace one another as brothers.
If we could just translate that moment from passing to permanent, if we could simply gaze beyond all the disparities. Then, perhaps, that glimpse just might finally become transformed into the enduring fixture we all long to see.
Originally posted in The Jerusalem Post, May 13, 2010