Today is Jerusalem Day. 52 years ago, Jerusalem was liberated. For the first time in decades, Jews could freely pray at the Western Wall. Inhabitants could roam around the city without being shot at by Jordanian soldiers.
There are many heart-rendering photos from that day. Three soldiers looking up at the Wailing Wall. The sound of the shofar, the ram’s horn, being blown. Moshe Dayan, he with the eye patch, strutting with senior officers through the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Today, nearly a million people live around Jerusalem. Its biotech industry is servicing millions globally. Intel sunk over US$15 billion to buy a local start up called MobilEye. And in terms of religion, everyone gets to do what they want.
However, going back 5 decades, what happened next? After the fighting ceased, we know that the soldiers were moved out towards the Hebron district, but then what?
The story of one rabbi, Shlomo Goren, encapsulates it all. It was recalled by Rabbi Ari Kahn, and I copy his words in full below. However, as I read it, I had to wonder, what has changed between now and then? Why has the hatred replaced the sweets that were offered in that moving episode of history?
You will chase away your enemies, and they will fall before your sword. Five of you will be able to chase away a hundred, and a hundred of you will defeat ten thousand, as your enemies fall before your sword. (Leviticus 26:7,8)
While the words of the biblical verse might once have sounded like hyperbole, in the coming days we will once again mark the anniversary of the Six-Day War. In 1967 – in the range of memory of many who are reading these words – the experiment called the State of Israel faced an existential threat, as a multi-front war threatened to annihilate the nation that dwelled in Zion.
The God of Israel was not silent, in a miracle of biblical proportions, the foreign armies were suddenly and decisively defeated. The Egyptian air force was neutralized within the first minutes of the war, and the great personal sacrifice Eli Cohen, Israel’s “man in Damascus,”helped defeat the enemy forces in the North.
Jerusalem was reunited, and the Temple Mount was returned to Jewish hands. This, too, came at a heavy price, paid with the lives of our young, valiant soldiers who gave their lives to defend West Jerusalem and to blaze the path to liberate East Jerusalem.
The iconic image of the young paratroopers standing at the Western wall is seared in our collective consciousness. Many of us have also seen pictures of the Chief Rabbi of the Army, Rav Shlomo Goren, who blew the shofar,recited a blessing of thanks and joy, and remembered the fallen in an awe-inspiring prayer at Western Wall.
What many do not remember is that on the following day, Rav Goren did something even more remarkable: He liberated the city of Hebron. Two people – Rav Goren and his driver – vanquished the 40,000 hostile Arabs living in the City of the Patriarchs. Only two people – with the help of God.
Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz also tells the story of Rabbi Goren’s account of that day.
“Many know the story of Rabbi Shlomo Goren arriving at the Western Wall flanked by IDF troops in the 1967 Six Day War on the 28th of Iyyar in the Hebrew calendar.
The moment, captured in an iconic photo, shows the rabbi holding a Torah scroll and blowing a shofar at the Western Wall surrounded by young soldiers. But few people know the even more astounding story of what happened the day after that photo was taken and how Rabbi Goren single-handedly conquered the holy city of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs, known as the Machpelah Cave.
The war was still raging after the Old City of Jerusalem was conquered by the IDF. Directly after the emotional scene at the Western Wall, Rabbi Goren, a general and the Chief Rabbi of the Israeli army, proceeded to join the forces gathered in the recently recaptured Gush Etzion. The troops were waiting for the morning when they would push on to battle the Jordanian Legion in Hebron.
Rabbi Goren addressed the troops, telling them of the enormous significance of Hebron to the Jews. He lay down to sleep surrounded by Israeli soldiers, telling them to wake him in time to leave for the battle the next day. However, when he awoke a few hours later, he was alone. The troops had moved on without him. He quickly woke up his driver and they set out to catch up with the Israeli forces.
Alone, they drove the short distance into Hebron and were greeted by flags of surrender, white sheets hanging from every window and rooftop. The rabbi didn’t see any Israeli soldiers and assumed they had already conquered the entire city. What the rabbi didn’t know was that he had arrived before the troops. The army had taken a longer route in order to surround the city before entering it. As he drove toward the Cave of the Patriarchs, he was the only Jew, certainly the only Jewish soldier, in a city of 40,000 Arabs.
When Rabbi Goren arrived at the large iron doors of the Cave of the Patriarchs, he found them locked. Rabbi Goren shot at them with his Uzi machine gun, trying unsuccessfully to open the doors which had been locked to Jews for 700 years. The bullet holes are still there and can be seen by anyone visiting the site today.
The doors did not open, so he backed his jeep up and attached chains to the doors, pulling them open. Rabbi Goren entered the Machpela, blew the shofar as he had done the day before at the Kotel, set up the Torah scroll, and began to pray.
The Mufti of Hebron sent a messenger to ask Rabbi Goren, as a general of the Israeli army, to accept his surrender. He refused, sending back the answer, ”This place, the Machpelah Cave, is a place of prayer and peace. Surrender elsewhere.”
The first Israeli troops in Hebron were shocked to find an Israeli flag flying from the roof of the Machpelah. The next day, the rabbi received an urgent message from his officer, the Israeli Chief of Staff, Moshe Dayan. He ordered Rabbi Goren to take down the flag, remove the Torah from the premises and to order anyone entering to remove their shoes because the site was a mosque.
Rabbi Goren sent a message back in response: “The Torah is holy – it stays. The flag means to me what it means to you. If you want to remove it, you may, but I will not.”