“We have returned to all that is holy in our land. We have returned never to be parted from it again.” – Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, upon reaching the Western Wall
When the Old City of Jerusalem and the Kotel were liberated from the Jordanians on June 7 (28 Iyar) 1967, it was a historical, spiritual and emotional event, bringing Jerusalem’s holiest site under Jewish control for the first time in 2,000 years. It is a moment that will not be equaled until Mashiach comes and the Third Temple is built on the Temple Mount.
Since that momentous reclamation of our holiest site, people come from all over the world to pray at the Kotel and offer up their personal, community and national petitions.
Among the first to do this, once the Kotel was reclaimed, was Minyan HaTzeirim (the Young Minyan), made up of young soldiers from Bnei Akiva and Ezra youth groups, part of Garin Hanachal that settled in the Rova (the Jewish Quarter). They founded the weekly Shabbat morning minyan at the Kotel from 9:00-10:30 a.m. and it has been meeting ever since.
The members of that group were born in 1948. It is poetic that the soldiers who were born with the State were the ones who fought in the Six-Day War. David Weiss, one of the founding members of the minyan, had his bris on the fifth of Iyar, the day the State was declared, and he celebrates his birthday with the State of Israel every year. Weiss has commemorated many a simcha in his minyan – bar mitzvahs, Shabbat chatans and kallahs – rain or shine. If he’s in Jerusalem, he’s at the Kotel.
Another founding member still active in the minyan is Benzi Kaplan, who today lives in Jerusalem’s Shaarei Chesed neighborhood. It’s a 35-40-minute walk for him, but weather permitting, he’s still a staunch attendee. Kaplan’s wife rode in on the wave of tziyonut that peaked after the Six-Day War. She made aliyah from Melbourne in 1970.
Kaplan says that in the days when relations with the Arabs were friendlier, there was an Arab store owner near the Kotel whom they would pay before Shabbat and he would bring out drinks for Kiddush.
Gabbi Shainin, 70, a seventh-generation resident of the Rova, has been the gabbai of the minyan for the past 40 years. He informs me that Minyan Hatzeirim is the only permanent, continuously ongoing minyan at the Kotel since the Six-Day War. It starts later in the morning than other minyanim to give soldiers on Shabbat leave a bit of a chance to sleep in, and young couples the opportunity to bring their children. Lots of children. Shainin encourages bringing children so that their mothers can rest at home and he gives the children lots of candy to encourage their attendance.
Although the original minyan was barely a quorum, today congregants number in the hundreds, with visitors adding to the local color. Although the children and grandchildren of Kaplan, Weiss and Shainin are living all over the country, they often can be found at the Kotel with their grandfathers on Shabbat and on Yom Yerushalayim.
If you’re at the Kotel on Shabbat and you want to join Minyan HaTzeirim, they’re down by the wall on the right-hand side, next to the mechitza of the women’s section. “Until the time,” says Shainin, “That we will merit to ascend to the Temple Mount.”