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The Shofar of Courage and Hope

 
 
 
 

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The Shofar of Courage and Hope

By Larry Domnitch

During British mandatory rule over Eretz Yisrael, Jews who ventured to the Western Wall braved adversity. They were subject to frequent harassment by local Arabs who understood its significance to the Jews. They did what they could to make life as difficult as possible for Jewish worshipers there. Then, there were other challenges.

On May 19, 1931, in one of many gestures of appeasement toward the Arabs, the British declared the pavement in front of the Western Wall as Moslem property. Jews were granted free access to pray there as long as the traditional 'Mechitza' (partition) was not used, and voices were not raised in prayer. In addition, the sounding of the Shofar was prohibited. However, one individual was determined to ensure that the Shofar would be heard at the Western Wall during the most sanctified moment of the Jewish year- the conclusion of Yom Kippur.

A few months later, as Yom Kippur was drawing to a close, as Rabbi Moshe Segal was praying at the Western Wall, he overheard people saying to each other, "Where will we go to hear the Shofar? It's impossible to blow here they have as many policemen as people." The Rabbi thought to himself, "How can we miss out on this important Shofar that proclaims G-D's sovereignty and echoes the redemption of Israel?"

Rabbi Segal approached Rabbi Yitzchak Horenstein, who served as Rabbi of the group and asked for a Shofar.

"What for?" He asked.

"I'll blow it"

"Sh-h! Sh-h! What are you talking about? Don't you see the police all over?"

"I'll blow it anyway"

The Rabbi turned his face away but cast a glance at a prayer stand at the end of the alley, indicating the Shofar's location.

Rabbi Segal approached the stand, and quietly opened the draw as he slipped the Shofar into his shirt. Unmarried at the time, he was not wearing a Talit (prayer shawl), so in order to cover the Shofar, he asked another person there to borrow his for cover. Wrapped in the Talit, the "contraband" shofar was safely concealed.

The defiant and determined young Rabbi thought to himself, "All around me, the police hover and a foreign government oppresses and restricts our people even on our holiest day, at our holiest place. But here under this Tallit is a whole other domain. Here I am under the rule of my Father in Heaven. Here I shall do as He commands me, and no force will prevent me."

Rabbi Segal waited anxiously as the final verses of the closing Neilah prayer were pronounced, "Hear O Israel," "Blessed be the name," and "The L-rd is G-D." Mustering all his strength and courage, he foisted the Shofar and sounded a thunderous blast. 1

Immediately, British soldiers converged upon the scene and whisked Rabbi Segal away.

Taken to a prison in the Old City, and placed under guard, the Rabbi's fast continued as he was held without food or water until mid-night. Then, suddenly, orders were received to have him released.

Chief Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook had intervened; he contacted the British High Commissioner and requested Rabbi Segal's release. When his request was denied, he insisted that he would himself not break his fast until Rabbi Segal was released. The High Commissioner replied, "But that man broke a government order," to which Rav Kook replied, "He fulfilled a religious commandment." Finally, after several hours, the High Commissioner relented.

In the following years, others inspired by Rabbi Segal, followed his example and Shofars were sounded at the Western Wall as Yom Kippur ended. Each year, the inevitable arrests had followed. In 1948, when the Arab legions held the Old City and Jewish entry was prohibited, Jews prayed at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, nearby on Mount Zion; the 'Israeli' side of the city from where the Kotel was visible. They sounded the Shofar there, and prayed for the day when once again, its voice could be heard at the Western Wall.

In June 1967, one of the first acts of the victorious paratroopers at the newly liberated Western Wall was the sounding of the Shofar. At the end of Yom Kippur that year, the man who blew the Shofar at the Kotel was none other then Moshe Segal. His acts of courage and faith eventually had a triumphant finale.


Larry Domnitch is the author of "The Cantonists: The Jewish Children's Army of the Tsar," recently released by Devora Publishing.


1 This section of the story was adapted from Rabbi Segal's memoirs.

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from the October 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

 

 

 

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