This isn’t about the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Maybe it should be. Always it should be, but this is actually about something else. A few years ago, I was asked to speak at a conference in the UK. I booked a flight through Rome, mostly because I could.
As I was waiting between flights, I saw two men come together and as they began to look around, I began to wonder if what I thought was happening could be possible? The two became three; the three became five. No way, I thought to myself. By now, two were wearing yarmulkes (skull caps, kippot), another had a hat on…two more joined them and then another. This is what Jewish men in Israel do all the time as the sun begins to set. I kept thinking I was imagining it. No way, no way, no way, I had to be imagining it, projecting what would happen in Israel to what was happening in Rome.
Here in Rome, in the airport? No way, I concluded as my brain kept telling my eyes that they were imagining the sight unfolding before me! One man signaled to another, now they were nine. All had put something on their heads. All they needed was one more to form a Jewish quorum of 10 men, a minyan. With a minyan, you can say certain prayers. Someone wishing to say the mourner’s prayer after losing a close relative, must gather a minyan.
They began looking at the sun and pointing – they were searching for the direction – to Jerusalem, and then came the 10th man. It was time for Mincha, the afternoon prayers, and there in Rome’s airport, they prayed. I was enthralled; I was proud; I was delighted. I looked at the faces of the people sitting nearby – many were staring at the Jewish men. They had quietly gone to a side wall but were clearly gathering attention.
I watched for a few minutes – no matter where we go, they announced to the world, we are what we are, we do what we must. This happens all over Israel, every day – I loved seeing it in Rome.
And a short time ago, something amazing happened. Forty years after the Israeli rescue of Jewish and Israeli captives in Uganda, a plane load of Jews returned. They are on a mission with the Prime Minister to discuss ways in which Israel can help some African nations; how we can improve ties. It must be especially emotional for Bibi Netanyahu, whose brother was shot and killed in the rescue attempt of July 4, 1976.
I was just short of my 16th birthday, and as I watched the tall ships sail down the Hudson River to honor America’s 200th birthday, I listened until the news broke that in a daring raid, Israel had rescued its own.
Today, forty years later, as the Israeli mission arrived in Uganda, it was time for Mincha, the afternoon prayers, and there, on the land where Jewish blood was shed, where lives were rescued and there where we lost Yoni Netanyahu, they prayed.
No matter where we go, they announced to the world, we are what we are, we do what we must. This happens all over Israel, every day – I loved seeing it in Rome, I love seeing it in Uganda.
May God bless the memory of Yoni Netanyahu; may He grant wisdom and strength to our leaders and may He bless the prayers of Jews everywhere.