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  • Writer's pictureGabbai

Yom Yerushalaim – A Time to Laugh, A Time to Cry

Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, the chief of the Sydney Beth Din and the outgoing president of the Australian Organization of Orthodox rabbis, shared a story at the conference on the subject of Yom Yerushalaim which was observed this past Wednesday.

In 1967, days after the liberation of the Western Wall by the IDF, the festival of Shavuot was celebrated. As they do today, Jews flocked from all over the city to the Western Wall to pray the morning services. The walk was surely inspiring, as it is to this day, as Jews converge from all directions toward the old city of Jerusalem in the faint dawn light. Upon arriving at the Wall that morning in 1967 the silence was audible. Unlike these days, when singing and dancing accompanies any joyous occasion at the Western Wall, that year there was silence. The silence was broken by the sobs that burst forth from the multitudes. They cried. They stood there and wept at the wall. Why were they crying? They should have been singing and dancing!

Some 22 years earlier a woman and her five year old son were hiding in an underground bunker somewhere in Europe. Like many Jews in those terrible times, they sought refuge from the Nazi regime wherever they could. In attics and basements belonging to kind gentiles or in holes in the ground in the forest. People were found eventually, more often than not, and dragged to their death. The greatest hazard to survival in such circumstances were babies and young children who could not stifle their cries of pain and hunger. Searches were conducted all the time to root out those Jews and often dogs were used to sniff out their positions. The few who did survive, did so against all odds, and it was especially rare for a young child to be among the survivors.

“Hush, hush,” the mothers would constantly remind the children. These children lived in circumstances where any sound could give them away and they were simply not allowed to cry. Crying was a luxury for another time, a different circumstance.

In 1945 noises of troops shuffling around was heard in this bunker. The sound was common and it was a reminder to be extra vigilant and silent and they cowered in mortal fear in the cold and dark bunker. But something was different this time. The voices were shouting and speaking not in German but in Russian. The Russians had finally liberated the area. The mother rushed out of the bunker, ran to the nearest soldier and fell on his shoulder, weeping. Her timid child, raised in the silence of the bunker, followed timidly. He pulled on her skirt anxiously: “Mama, Mama, we are allowed to cry now?”

At the Western Wall they stood and wept. They cried because after 2000 years they could finally cry.

The 1948 establishment of the State elicited a different expression of joy. The video footage we have is characterized by euphoric singing and dancing. The realization of that dream and the nationalistic feelings which accompanied that announcement bubbled over in the hearts of Jews around the world.

Today we live in the post-Zionist era, a time when Zionism is not the cornerstone of Jewish identity even among the secular Jews. Nevertheless, we all feel pride in the achievements of the State of Israel, the State which we are proud to call our homeland. It requires and deserves our unwavering support at all times, even when we disagree with its policies and politics. It doesn’t take Zionism to be a backer of the State of Israel, it is the privilege and responsibility of every Jew.

Whether we express our feelings toward the State and such occasions and the liberation of Jerusalem and the Western Wall with tears or laughter, with religious zeal or with nationalistic pride, our hearts stand in the same place – behind our people 100%.

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