The recent Tisha B’Av commemoration brings another very different Tisha B’Av to mind. It was a time of celebration in Jerusalem and for Jews all over the world. Tisha B’Av in 1967 occurred shortly after the Six-Day War. Some said there was no need to fast – after all, the Jewish nation had returned from exile.
The war saw Israel standing alone against a powerful coalition of Arab neighbors. The future looked bleak.
Fate, however, had something else in store for the Jewish state. Within six days the Israel Defense Forces liberated the Sinai peninsula, the West Bank and the Golan Heights, and, most compelling of all, the Old City of Jerusalem.
No Jew who was alive at the time can ever forget the poignant announcement. On June 7,1967, General Motta Gur declared, “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” Battle-weary Jewish soldiers broke into the song “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” (Jerusalem of Gold).
The sense of unity was incredible. There were no divisions; religious and secular, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, haredim and Modern Orthodox, kibbutzniks and city dwellers all stood together.
The IDF procession hurried to the Kotel. The group spoke with one voice as they recited the Shehechianu blessing. Rabbi Shlomo Goren, z”l, blew the shofar at the wall to mark the magical moment.
Troops sang a spontaneous and heartfelt Hatikvah. Rabbi Goren recited the prayer for those who fell in battle. Soldiers wept. Gunfire rumbled in the background.
Rabbi Goren declared, “This year in a rebuilt Jerusalem! In the Jerusalem of old!”
The victory was a biblical-style conquest in a modern-day world. If ever there was a decisive point in history, it was that day in June 1967 when the whole world witnessed an open miracle and Jews in every corner of the globe felt pride and connection with their heritage.
After 2,000 bloody years the Jewish nation had come back to its holy city. The reason for the exile had been sinat chinam, baseless hatred between Jew and Jew, but this unbelievable turn of events created real achdut, unity. Redemption seemed imminent.
Forty-six years have passed since then. How is it possible that defeat could follow such an incredible victory?
Why are Jews again at the mercy of their enemies in the holy places in Jerusalem? Why are Jews in Israel and around the world again so bitterly divided? What happened?
There are pivotal moments in life. There are conditions that warrant action. The adage “He who hesitates is lost” is all too true. The Jewish nation was presented with an amazing miracle. It did not act in timely fashion and missed the proverbial boat.
Shortly after Israel’s magnificent conquest, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan turned the keys to Har HaBayit over to the Arab wakf. The Israeli government acted out of a misguided political correctness that resulted in disaster. For the first time in history, the vanquished dictated the terms of peace to the victors. A great sanctification of God’s name was turned into a desecration of His name.
Today, Arabs lounge about the Temple Mount with disrespect and impunity, having picnics and playing soccer on holy ground. They dig up and haul away, trying to rid the area of artifacts and any sign of a previous Jewish presence. They arrest any Jew who dares to move his lips in prayer.
What if Israel had seized the opportunity it was handed in June 1967? What if the Jewish nation had realized it had witnessed a powerful miracle – one that bore the seeds of the Beit HaMikdash descending from heaven to earth?
What if the Jews had gratefully and unashamedly accepted their gift without fear of what the world would think, and gone about making preparations to fulfill their destiny?