Yesterday I participated in a candle lighting ceremony on the fourth night of Chanukah at the Kotel along with my partner (he doesn’t like the word husband; although a staunch feminist, it doesn’t bother me), as part of a contingent of 350 paratroopers and their families from the revered and honorable 55th paratroopers brigade that fought the battle for Jerusalem and liberated the Wall in 1967 on the third day of the Six Day War. Now, old men, they came from all over the country with their wives, their children, the grandchildren, to pay honor to the site that has become the most sacred site for all Jews. It should have been an honorable event, a time to remember what they did and why, and perhaps most poignantly to remember their comrades, their friends who died to achieve their victory. It is hallowed ground but it is no longer holy. At least not for me.
For me, the Kotel should be pure, dignified, clean, quiet. A place to pray, to remember, to consecrate. The words of one of the first to reach the Kotel in 1967 was remembered yesterday: “Our victory is not over the Jordanians, it is over the Romans who destroyed our Temple 2000 years ago.” And the proclamation of the brigade’s commander Mota Gur on that day: “ The Temple Mount is in our hands!” still rings clear.
I admit, I have not been to the Kotel in many years and I was shocked to see how vulgar the site had become. Piccadilly Circus in London looks more dignified. The plaza leading up to the Kotel is dirty, in disarray and the Kotel itself is segregated. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation went out of its way to create a festive event and to honor the paratroopers. I want to believe that it was done for the right reasons. One could see the awe in the eyes of the young paratroopers who were invited to participate and the respect they had for those who had come before them. That was a given. What was more compelling was the effect the event had on all the others who were there. I hope the stories they heard and the diligent insistence on the part of the speakers to remind the audience that what they did, they did for Am Yisrael is a lesson learned. But for me, I was sad.
All the fighting over the years over what the Kotel is, who owns the Kotel, who rules the site, has led to a market atmosphere. I hold the government responsible, all the governments over all the years — who allowed the ultra-Orthodox to seize control in the name of holiness. There is no holiness there — as there is no longer a feeling of holiness at the gravesites of the righteous — which have been turned into dirty, medieval carnival sites as well. I wish I could end this blog by hoping that perhaps someone will take a look and say, let’s restore sanctity to the Kotel. I know that will not happen. So I end with words from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: “ We cannot consecrate — We cannot hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”
So who really won on that glorious day in 1967?