The 2nd Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70CE at the hands of the Roman Empire. For nearly 2000 years the Jews were exiled from their homeland but never did they once forget Jerusalem or the Holy Temple that stood there. Numerous innovations were introduced in to the prayer service and Jewish custom and law in order to keep Jerusalem at the forefront of Jewish consciousness. For example, the direction of prayer is towards Jerusalem. When building a new home it is customary to leave an unfinished square in order to remember the destruction. Each year at the end of Yom Kippur and the Passover Seder Jews would declare “Next year in rebuilt Jerusalem!” To the Jew this was not a fairy tale—despite the seemingly endless exile the dream always remained alive in the hearts and minds of the people. Even while sitting in the darkness of the Holocaust Jews declared that one day they will return.
There is a famous story about Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was walking through the streets of Paris. As he passed by a synagogue, he heard the sound of people weeping inside. He turned to his assistant and asked, "What's going on in there?"
"Today is Tisha B'Av," came the reply, "and the Jews are mourning the loss of their Temple."
Napoleon looked toward the synagogue and said, "If the Jews are still crying after so many hundreds of years, then I am certain the Temple will one day be rebuilt!"
November 29, 1947 the U.N voted in resolution 181 to partition Palestine in to two states, one Jewish and one Arab. Though the beloved Jerusalem was to be internationalized, the Jews accepted the proposal with a mixture of joy and sadness at the fate of Jerusalem. The Arabs rejected the partition plan outright. No compromise was possible with the Jews—it was all or nothing.
Over the course of the next 5 months or so the British hastened the removal of their troops and personnel from what was still Palestine. The British held the strategic locations in Palestine and knowledge of when they would leave each location was safeguarded. Each side, Jew and Arab tried to occupy the positions that the British evacuated. In many cases the British simply handed over the positions to whichever population was the majority in the area being evacuated.
Perhaps one of the most spine chilling, moving accounts of the British exit is their departure from the Old City of Jerusalem.
They could hear the sound of the bagpipes as the last few British soldiers marched down the stone passageways of the Old City. They marched silently with their boots rhythmically pounding the pavement. Along the Street of the Jews eyes were peering down from the windows watching this final procession on the way out of the Old City.
The procession stopped in front of arched stones on top of the entry to #3 Or Hachaim street. Inside that home was the Rabbi Weingarten, the senior rabbi of the Old City surrounded by his books and Jewish artifacts. He rose to answer the knock on the door. As he opened the door, there standing before him was a middle aged British major and from his right hand was dangling a large rusted key. It was the key to Zion Gate, one of the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem. “From the year 70 until today” he said, “a key to the gates of Jerusalem has never been in Jewish hands. This is the first time in eighteen centuries that your people have been so privileged.”
Weingarten, his hands trembling, took the rusted key and said, “Blessed art Thou, Lord our G-d, King of the universe who has granted us life and sustenance and allowed us to reach this day.” The Englishmen turned and marched out of the rabbi’s courtyard as the shadows of evening began to stretch across the Old City.
After Rabbi Weingarten received the keys, the War of Independence would erupt only days later. Within 2 weeks the Old City of Jerusalem fell to the Jordanians and Rabbi Weingarten, along with the other Jewish residents would be marched out of Zion Gate, the very same gate that he had received keys to just 2 weeks before. It would be another 19 years, in the 1967 Six Day War before Jerusalem would be liberated and the entire city unified under the government of Israel.
It has been a long road for the Jewish people since that fateful day in the year 70 when we went into exile. The road has been strewn with lots of casualties, forced conversions, heroism and sacrifice. The united Jerusalem today is a model city of religious freedom and tolerance. It is a spiritually uplifting place and now that we have come home and have fulfilled the words of the prophet “Once again will the elderly sit on the streets of Jerusalem” we are not leaving again. Now we wait for the final destiny of mankind with the arrival of the Messiah.