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Could we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar, which symbolizes the redemption of Israel? For me, it was unthinkable

The Shofar and the Wall

The Shofar and the Wall

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Editor's note: The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was twice destroyed -- by the Romans in the year 69 CE, and by the Babylonians on the same date in 423 BCE. One wall remains standing as a living symbol of the Jewish people's ownership over the land of Israel and the city of Jerusalem -- the Kotel HaMaaravi or "Western Wall."

What follows is an excerpt (translated from the Hebrew) from the memoir of Rabbi Moshe Segal (1904-1985), a Lubavitcher Chassid who was active in the struggle to free the Holy Land from British rule.

In those years, the area in front of the Kotel did not look as it does today. Only a narrow alley separated the Kotel and the Arab houses on its other side. The British Government forbade us to place an Ark, tables or benches in the alley; even a small stool could not be brought to the Kotel. The British also instituted the following ordinances, designed to humble the Jews at the holiest place of their faith: it is forbidden to pray out loud, lest one upset the Arab residents; it is forbidden to read from the Torah (those praying at the Kotel had to go to one of the synagogues in the Jewish quarter to conduct the Torah reading); it is forbidden to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The British Government placed policemen at the Kotel to enforce these rules.

On Yom Kippur of that year [1930] I was praying at the Kotel. During the brief intermission between the musaf and minchah prayers, I overheard people whispering to each other: "Where will we go to hear the shofar? It'll be impossible to blow here. There are as many policemen as people praying..." The Police Commander himself was there, to make sure that the Jews will not, G-d forbid, sound the single blast that closes the fast.

I listened to these whisperings, and thought to myself: Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar that accompanies our proclamation of the sovereignty of G-d? Can we possibly forgo the sounding of the shofar, which symbolizes the redemption of Israel? True, the sounding of the shofar at the close of Yom Kippur is only a custom, but "A Jewish custom is Torah"! I approached Rabbi Yitzchak Horenstein, who served as the Rabbi of our "congregation," and said to him: "Give me a shofar."

"What for?"

"I'll blow."

"What are you talking about? Don't you see the police?"

"I'll blow."

The Rabbi abruptly turned away from me, but not before he cast a glance at the prayer stand at the left end of the alley. I understood: the shofar was in the stand. When the hour of the blowing approached, I walked over to the stand and leaned against it.

I opened the drawer and slipped the shofar into my shirt. I had the shofar, but what if they saw me before I had a chance to blow it? I was still unmarried at the time, and following the Ashkenazic custom, did not wear a tallit. I turned to person praying at my side, and asked him for his tallit. My request must have seemed strange to him, but the Jews are a kind people, especially at the holiest moments of the holiest day, and he handed me his tallit without a word.

I wrapped myself in the tallit. At that moment, I felt that I had created my own private domain. All around me, a foreign government prevails, ruling over the people of Israel even on their holiest day and at their holiest place, and we are not free to serve our G-d; but under this tallit is another domain. Here I am under no dominion save that of my Father in Heaven; here I shall do as He commands me, and no force on earth will stop me.

When the closing verses of the neillah prayer -- "Hear O Israel," "Blessed be the name" and "The L-rd is G-d" -- were proclaimed, I took the shofar and blew a long, resounding blast. Everything happened very quickly. Many hands grabbed me. I removed the tallit from over my head, and before me stood the Police Commander, who ordered my arrest.

I was taken to the kishla, the prison in the Old City, and an Arab policeman was appointed to watch over me. Many hours passed; I was given no food or water to break my fast. At midnight, the policeman received an order to release me, and he let me out without a word.

I then learned that when the chief rabbi of the Holy Land, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, heard of my arrest, he immediately contacted the secretary of High Commissioner of Palestine, and asked that I be released. When his request was refused, he stated that he would not break his fast until I was freed. The High Commissioner resisted for many hours, but finally, out of respect for the Rabbi, he had no choice but to set me free.

For the next eighteen years, until the Arab conquest of the Old City in 1948, the shofar was sounded at the Kotel every Yom Kippur. The British well understood the significance of this blast; they knew that it will ultimately demolish their reign over our land as the walls of Jericho crumbled before the shofar of Joshua, and they did everything in their power to prevent it. But every Yom Kippur, the shofar was sounded by men who know they would be arrested for their part in staking our claim on the holiest of our possessions.

Watch: "Eyewiteness 1948: Echoes of a Shofar
From the Hebrew by Yanki Tauber.
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Discussion (14)
September 25, 2012
May Our L-rd G-d continue to Honor those that are Kind to us Jews and may G-d Curse those that are unkind to us Jewish the People who chose G-d!
Amen and Amen!
Steve Brenner Ha Cohen
September 24, 2012
A Love Story
Another year. A solemn time. A sacred time. Could it be, that the words "so far" in shofar, contain a story, about what is powerfully deep, about the Book of Life, of Sefer Torah.. what is, and could be, for us all, taking us through the alleyways and the corridors of life, plodding, racing, reaching, hugging, yearning, wailing, singing, a profound story that will take us all back, into the arms of G_d who never left, this time, dancing. A singing time. To dance with abandon knowing we were never abandoned. Just an illusion.

There is a poetry of soul within the dance of wind, within the weeping rain, a poetry of soul that walks silently through every night.

We encountered G_d in the dark. It's easiest in the light.

Promise is gold, snow caught up in a web of sunsets, and rain isn't always what is seems, nor night mares, kicking against the sands of time.

I clasp the ineffable when I hold my granddaughter's smile in my mind. It's all ways G_d. Always, Golden
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
October 5, 2011
The significance behind stories
A good story is transformative, meaning when the individual or individuals move through stories, they are changed, as in the metamorphosis of a butterfly, a word also that connotes soul.

This is an amazing story of courage and faith and also what was done to elicit such defiance of orders that had nothing to do with sensitivity to the needs of those who needed to celebrate, as written, with the blasts of the Shofar, this most holy day.

The bind for me, is a deep kind of knowing, that without "them", those who put us in this kind of a bondage, we would not be able to rise above, to proclaim this a most moving story, to blow that shofar.

It seems all stories are predicated on the good and the bad guys, and we surmount the rocks in the stream, we bleed, and yet we do triumph, and that's the hero story. We're all in this together.

The sound of the shofar is in our bones. I hear it even in my sleep and it rouses something deep within that is without, without words. Ineffable. Deep.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
October 4, 2011
To Chaim Moshe ben Nisan,
Just curious to know: Why do you work in Saudia Arabia? And how are you able to live there as a Jew?
Anonymous
Brooklyn
August 15, 2011
BLOW THAT SHOFAR and PRAY
"Where will we go to hear the shofar? Oh, how that resonates in my spirit and soul both!

I am a Christian reading this. I too am very bold where G-d is concerned. This dear soul's courage to honor G-d's sovereignty and faith in redemption is something I closely identify with.

What a tear-filled joy this article brought me.
Thank you SO much.
Barbara Stapleton
Yonkers, NY
March 27, 2011
God
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
Anonymous
Plant City, Florida
September 17, 2010
This story and the courage of these people who risked their lives brings tears to my heart and eyes. May G-d be praised by more people like these. We owe them a lot... true witnesses ... may G-d bless them and us!
Beautifully explained.
Fr Dominic Borg,ocd
London / Ontario, Canada
September 14, 2010
blowing the shofar at the kotel
I am a British Jew and never knew about this behaviour of the British, It makes me want to identify less as British. I am glad I am not just British or I would feel ashamed. I attended Jewish schools till I was 11 and my kids all their school lives but we were never taught this.I wonder why?!
Anonymous
Manchester, U.K
September 13, 2010
The Shofar and The Wall
I am not proud of being ignorant of the fact that this went on. I was in total shock as I read this and I am glad that I know about someone who was so courageous as to blow the Shofar when the closing verses of the nellah prayer was said...and he was taken away and he did not break his fast-I cried a little -it is not like all became ohkay but people were very courageous.-Thank You for printing this
Judith L. Witten
Brockton, Ma./USA
September 13, 2010
Blowing of the Shofar at the Kotel: 1930
Makes me proud to be a Jew. Especially considering that I'm working in Eretz Amalek (Saudi Arabia).
Chaim Moshe ben Nisan
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
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