In this reminiscence of the Six Day War, a man recalls his first time at the Kotel as a young boy, when the IDF liberated the Old City of Jerusalem.
One of my neighbors is a sixth-generation Jerusalemite. That makes his children seventh generation.
He was in elementary school in 1967. He had not yet celebrated his Bar Mitzvah.
In May of that year, his father was called into the reserves. He didn’t see him for a long time. Then one day his father appeared in school in his IDF uniform which was very dusty and extremely wrinkled. After a short conversation with the teacher he ctook my friend out of class.
My friend didn’t know what to ask first: why his father had come to school or where they were going.
It turns out his father was taking him to his grandparents’ house because the war was about to begin.
My neighbor spent most of the next week in the shelter at his grandparents’ home on Bar Ilan Street in northern Jerusalem. This was practically on the border in those days.
There was a radio blackout and Israel didn’t have television yet, so they weren’t quite sure what was happening.
More than a week after his father took him out of school, it was very quiet. Even from inside the shelter they could sense the quiet. My neighbor went with one of his friends to the Mandelbaum Gate, which separated Israel and Jordan. It was about a 20-minute walk. They didn’t know if they’d actually get there or what they would do if they did. But they made it.
He was hoping that perhaps he’d find his father. In retrospect he realizes he didn’t know if his father was there. He didn’t even know if his father was still alive. The news in Israel during the Six Day War was almost non-existent.
The scene at Mandelbaum Gate – which was no longer the border – was one of total disarray. As if in a dream, amidst all the soldiers and equipment, he heard someone call his name. It was his father. He was overwhelmed.
His father looked like a movie star to his son. He was driving a jeep and was on a “mission,” he recalls. He told his son to get in his jeep; they had somewhere important to go. At age 10, my friend was overjoyed to be with his father. He didn’t really care where they were going.
His father drove around the side of Jerusalem’s Old City that this young boy had never seen. Then they actually drove into the Old City.
He couldn’t believe it. He heard that “the Kotel [Western Wall] was ours again.” And now here he was. They had to walk through a lot of rubble. But they made it to the Kotel. He offered prayers of thanksgiving.
My friend still lives in Jerusalem. He has been to the Kotel numerous times. This includes every family celebration and when his sons were sworn into the IDF. But he still dreams about that first time he went to the Kotel with his father.
By Fred Harris