Over the past two millennia Jews have visited Jerusalem in honor of the festivals in lieu of the biblically ordained pilgrimages. On the holiday of Shavuot, there was also the custom of visiting the grave of King David on Mount Zion, since according to Jewish tradition the day of his birth and the day of his passing both occurred during Shavuot.

When Shavuot arrived in 1948, it was a month after the establishment of the State of Israel, and Jews could no longer make the pilgrimage to the Western Wall. The Jordanians, who had been occupying the eastern half of the city since the War of Independence, blocked all right of passage to Jews. However, the pilgrimage to King David’s tomb on nearby Mount Zion, located on the Israeli side of divided Jerusalem, continued.

Over the next nineteen years crowds made their way to Mount Zion where they could view the Old City and the Temple Mount. On the morning of Shavuot, June 15, 1967, just days after its liberation, the Old City was officially opened to the Israeli public. For the first time in almost two thousand years, masses of Jews could visit the Western Wall and walk through the cherished streets of Judaism’s capital city as members of the sovereign Jewish nation. 

Every Jew who ventured to the Western Wall on that unforgettable day represented the living realization of his ancestors’ dreams. It was one of those rare euphoric moments in history.

From the late hours of the night, thousands of Jerusalem residents streamed toward Zion Gate, eagerly awaiting entry into the Old City. At 4 a.m., the accumulating crowds assembled at Mount Zion were finally allowed to enter the area of the Western Wall. The first minyan (traditional prayer quorum of ten men) soon began. Fifteen hundred people shared that historic moment.

As the sun rose, there was a steady flow of the thousands who had already made their way toward the Old City. In total, 200,000 Jews visited the Western Wall that day. It was the first pilgrimage, en masse, of Jews to a Jewish-controlled Jerusalem on a Jewish festival in two thousand years — the first since the pilgrimages for the festivals in Temple times. The Jerusalem Post described the epic scene:

“Every section of the population was represented. Kibbutz members and soldiers rubbing shoulders with the Neturei Karta. Mothers came with children in prams, and old men trudged steeply up Mount Zion supported by youngsters on either side, to see the wall of the Temple before the end of their days.

“Some wept, but most faces were wreathed in smiles. For thirteen continuous hours a colorful variety of all peoples trudged along in perfect order, stepping patiently when told to do so at each of six successive barriers set up by the police to regulate the flow.”

An eyewitness described the moment as follows:

“I’ve never known so electric an atmosphere before or since. Wherever we were stopped, we began to dance. Holding aloft Torah scrolls we swayed and danced and sang at the tops of our voices. So many of the Psalms and songs are about Jerusalem and Zion and the words reached into us a new life. As the sky lightened, we reached the Zion Gate. Still singing and dancing, we poured into the narrow alleyways beyond.”

On Shavuot three thousand, two hundred and seventy-nine years before, the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai and felt the gravity of the moment as a unique relationship was formed between themselves and their Creator. On Shavuot following Israel’s amazing victory in the Six-Day War, multitudes ascended to the Western Wall as their ancestors had done in the past, and they celebrated the holiday just a short distance from the Temple Mount. They too felt the magic of the moment.

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