Echoes of a Shofar

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In the 1930s it was illegal to blow the shofar at the Kotel in British Mandatory Palestine. 

Despite this restriction, for the next seventeen years, the shofar was sounded at the Kotel every Yom Kippur. Shofars were smuggled to the Kotel where brave teenagers defiantly blew them at the conclusion of the fast. Some managed to get away while others were captured and sent to jail for up to six months.

Six of these men are still alive. These are their stories.

  1. On August 15, 1929, Zionist activists sang “Hatikva” and raised the Star of David at the Western Wall. Eight days later, Muslim crowds, having read propaganda from the Mufti and the Supreme Muslim Council stating that “the Jews’ aim is to take possession of Al-Aksa Mosque gradually, on the pretense that it is the Temple, by starting with the Western Wall of this place,” descended on the Orthodox, primarily Sephardi, communities in Safed and Hebron and massacred 113 Jews. Hebron’s ancient Jewish community was devastated.The British government published two investigations of the pogroms, which they referred to as the “1929 disturbances.” Based on the investigations, the British favored a return to the status quo at the Western Wall. The blowing of shofarot by Jews was prohibited, as was the bringing of any chairs or mechitzot (partitions), or the use of the Wall for political events. Muslims were prohibited from bringing animals to the site and continuing the Zikr events (a Muslim ritual which involved the banging of drums and clanging of cymbals).

    At the time, the Kotel consisted of a small alley which stretched 28 meters along the stones. It was four meters wide. The area was owned by the Muslim Wakf and the Jewish community was forced to pay a special tax for the privilege of access. The Western Wall was separated from the Jewish Quarter by an impoverished neighborhood of North African Muslims called the Mughrabi Quarter.

    Why do you think the British placed these decrees on Jews and Muslims at the Western Wall? How do you think these rules made Jews feel at the time?

  2. Before Jacob Sika Aharoni blew the shofar in 1938, the 16-year-old was asked, “Are you willing to go on a mission for which you may be arrested?” Aharoni answered, “Absolutely! We swore to give our lives for the resurrection of the Jewish people.” In your opinion, how does breaking the British law by blowing the shofar contribute to the resurrection of the Jewish people in Palestine? Do you think it was something worth breaking the law over? Why or why not?
  3. After the IDF paratroopers captured the Kotel from the Jordanians in 1967, how do you think Abraham Elkayam felt as one of the first Shofar blowers at the liberated wall? What memories do you think would have been going through his mind as he blew a powerful tekia (long shofar note) at the holy site?
  1. The stories of this video embody a famous quote by the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, who once said, “If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so.”Are there any laws you know of from history where you would have felt it an obligation not to keep them? Share a personal story of a time you felt a tension between the privilege of living in a democracy and the challenge of having to abide by a law with which you did not agree.
  2. Controversies in the Old City: Then and Now:From 1930 to today, the Kotel/TempleMount/Haram Al Sharif has been both a place of prayer and an occasional site of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Jews of different denominations.

    Research one of the conflicts at the site and share your solution as to what you’d like to see happen there.

  3. Play our Kahoot about Echoes of the Shofar!

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