(Editor’s Note: This is the sequel to Ms. Heiman’s May 18 front-page essay “Guns of Jerusalem,” accessible at www.jewishpress.com/page.do/21555/Guns_of_Jerusalem.html.)
Covered with sand and dust, his face the color of chalk, my husband resembled a nomad, shirt ripped, clothes and shoes much the same as one who just crossed a desert. Choked with emotion, he could barely speak when he returned late Thursday afternoon, the fourth day of the Six-Day War, from his first experience at the newly liberated Western Wall.
“I was there,” Sholom mumbled.
“Where?” I asked, frightened by his demeanor.
“I still can’t believe it – I was really there.”
Between gulps of tap water, he detailed his unusual day. Almost on impulse, he had traveled to the Kotel together with three other staff members of Boys Town Jerusalem. They’d been offered a ride by a non-Jewish acquaintance who drove them to Ramat Rachel, past the Arab village Zur Bacher, onto a winding road overlooking a breathtaking view of the Judean desert that led into the old city through the Lions’ Gate.
Abandoning their vehicle, they crossed Har Habayit by foot. In matter of moments they were squeezed into the narrow street facing the Kotel, where Jews for centuries had dreamed of praying.
For nearly two decades of Jordanian rule, Jews had been forbidden to enter that narrow street. Nineteen years our capital city had remained divided, and now, in three days, all the walls and barbed wire fences had come down.
* * *
In those years, letters, not phone calls, were the main lines of communication with our relatives in America. That night, after lighting a few candles – electricity had yet to be restored – Sholom shared his emotional high in a letter to his father:
Zeh Hayom Asa Hashem, Nagilah V’nismecha Vo
Erev r”chodesh Sivan, 5727
I do not remember any time in my life that I’ve been so overwhelmed by events. Both Faigie and I cannot believe we witnessed an artillery war unfold beneath our balcony. The highlight, three days later, this afternoon when I found myself in front of the Kosel Maarovi – and I’m not even sure how I got there. It was a dream revealed – one I never imagined would happen in my lifetime. I’m still breathless, unable to properly express the tremendous sense of gratitude to Hashem felt so strongly when I dovened mincha in front of stones, remnants of the Beis Hamikdosh.
Rabbi Shlomo Goren was surrounded by soldiers, paratroopers, and he displayed the unconditional surrender he received from Sheikh Jaabri the Mayor of Chevron. Rabbi Goren had just returned from the Meoras Hamachpelah, where he unlocked the door, and was the first Jew to enter in 700 years.
Miraculous events transpired this week and we were among the worthy to be here in Yerushalaim to witnesses the greatness of Hashem, and glory restored to our city.
* * *
By Friday morning, electricity and phone service had been restored in most parts of the city. We were in touch with my parents and exchanged experiences with them. Poppa had recuperated from his frightful Monday morning walk home with Momma, under shellfire, from the kindergarten on Aza Street to Shaarei Chesed, where he had said Viduy and Shema on the curb of a Rechavia street, fully expecting his soul to depart this world at any moment.
“As soon as I replace that wheel on my car, I’m coming to pick you up,” Sholom said. He knew exactly where he wanted to take Poppa, and he knew how to get there.
I remained at home, returning our apartment to its pre-war condition and preparing for Shabbat, while Sholom was out with Poppa and the children, on their way to Kever Rachel.
As Sholom drove into Bethlehem, my father’s knees weakened. He could hardly step out of the car or stand up, shocked by the unfamiliar setting, especially once he realized they’d driven on a road that was mined on either side, with Arab corpses still strewn about in abundance.
The streets bustled with Israeli troops, jeeps, tanks, and artillery.
“What are we doing here, Shulem?” Poppa bellowed at his irresponsible son-in-law. Bist de meshigge – and nuch with the children? We’re still in the middle of a war! Look what’s going on here, this is a war zone!”