Over the last two millennia, Jews have visited Jerusalem in honor of the festivals, in lieu of the Biblically ordained pilgrimages. On the holiday of Shavuot, there was also the custom to visit the grave of King David on Mount Zion, since
according to tradition; the date of his birth and passing was the holiday of Shavuot.
When Shavuot arrived in 1948, it was a month after the establishment of the State of Israel, and Jews could no longer continue to make the pilgrimage to the Western Wall. The Jordanians, who occupied the eastern half of the city since the War
of Independence, blocked all rights of passage to the Jews. However, the pilgrimage to King David’s tomb on nearby Mount Zion, located on the Israeli side of divided Jerusalem, continued. Over the next nineteen years, crowds made their way to Mount Zion, where they could view the ‘Old City’ and the Temple Mount.
On the morning of Shavuot June 15, 1967, just six days after the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem following the Six Day War, the Old City was officially opened to the Israeli public. For the first time in almost two thousand years, masses of
Jews could visit the Western Wall and walk through the cherished streets of Judaism’s capital city as members of the sovereign Jewish nation. Each Jew who ventured to the Western Wall on that unforgettable day represented the living realization of their ancestors’ dreams over the millennia: it one of those rare, euphoric moments in
From the late hours of the night, thousands of Jerusalem residents streamed towards the Zion gate, eagerly awaiting entry into the Old City. At 4 a.m., the accumulating crowds were finally allowed to enter the area of the Western Wall. The
first Minyan (traditional quorum of ten men) soon began. Over fifteen hundred people shared that special moment. As the sun continued to rise, there was a steady flow of thousands who made their way to the Old City. Multitudes of Israelis visited the Western Wall that day. It was the first pilgrimage, en masse, of Jews to Jewish- controlled Jerusalem on a Jewish festival in two thousand years, since Temple times.
The Jerusalem Post described the epic scene: “Every section of the population was represented. Kibbutz members and
soldiers rubbing shoulders with Neturei Karta. Mothers came with children in prams, and old men trudged steeply up Mount Zion, supported by youngsters on either side, to see the wall of the Temple before the end of their days.”
“Some wept, but most faces were wreathed in smiles. For thirteen continuous hours a colorful variety of all peoples trudged along in perfect order, stepping patiently when told to do so at each of six successive barriers set up by the police to
regulate the flow.”
An eyewitness described the moment:
“I’ve never known so electric an atmosphere before or since. Wherever we stopped, we began to dance. Holding aloft Torah scrolls we swayed and danced and sang at the tops of our voices. So many of the Psalms and songs are about Jerusalem
and Zion and the words reached into us a new life. As the sky lightened, we reached the Zion gate. Still singing and dancing, we poured into the narrow alleyways beyond.”
On Shavuot, three thousand two hundred and seventy years earlier, the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai and felt the gravity of the moment as a unique relationship was formed between themselves and their Creator. On the day of Shavuot following Israel’s amazing victory of the Six-Day War, multitudes ascended to the
Western Wall, as their ancestors had done in the past, and they celebrated the holiday just a short distance from the Temple Mount. They, too, felt the magic of the moment.