The Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue, circa 1940 (photo credit: CC BY Jerusalem Municipality, Wikipedia)
On Friday, May 25, 1948 (Iyyar 12, 5709), several hours before the onset of Shabbat, the Nissan Beck (Tiferet Yisrael) Synagogue collapsed into ruins, along with its beautiful dome. Plumes of fire and smoke ascended upward, and a large cloud of dust at first obscured the destruction. Arab terrorists had managed to hide a large explosive device under the synagogue and detonate it.
Esther Cailingold and a handful of comrades were defending the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City on behalf of the Haganah. They watched tearfully as one of the outstanding symbols of Jerusalem's Old Yishuv collapsed. Nevertheless, the fighting continued around it.
The Jewish Quarter's children, some of them just 9 and 10 years old, were there too. The younger ones strengthened fortifications. Children of 12 and older acted as liaisons, passing along messages, food and even weapons and ammunition to the fighters.
Some of these children took active part in the fighting and were killed, including Yaffa Harush, 16, and Nissim Gini, 10, the youngest person to fall in battle in Israeli history. Four days before the Jewish Quarter fell, at the Karaite site next to the synagogue, Esther Cailingold sustained serious injuries.
She was carried to the Armenian monastery. While on her deathbed, she wrote these final words to her parents in England:
"I am writing to beg you that whatever may have happened to me, you will make the effort to take it in the spirit I want. We had a difficult fight. I have tasted hell but it has been worthwhile because I am convinced the end will see a Jewish state and all our longings ... I want you to remember that we were soldiers and had the greatest and noblest cause to fight for ... I have lived my life fully, and very sweet it has been to be here in our land ... I hope one day soon you will all come and enjoy the fruits of that for which we are fighting. Be happy and remember me only in happiness. Shalom, Esther."
At the beginning of this month, the state paid off another debt to Cailingold and 66 other fighters and civilians who fell defending the Jewish Quarter in 1948. It approved a plan of the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter to rebuild the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue.
Like its twin, the Hurva Synagogue, which was restored to its original glory several years ago, Tiferet Yisrael's restoration will be faithful to the original. The ruins of the old structure, including the western facade, the southern facade and the ritual baths will be incorporated into the new building.
The famous dome with its 12 windows and surrounding balcony will be restored, along with the landscape scenes in the main sanctuary representing the four seasons. When Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph visited Jerusalem in 1870, he wondered out loud why the building did not have a dome. Jewish representatives responded that the synagogue had taken off its hat in his honor. The emperor took the hint and contributed 1,000 French francs to rebuild the dome and complete the synagogue.
Today, we no longer need contributions from foreigners, nor do we need their approval. Abdullah el-Tell, the Arab Legion commander who conquered the Old City in 1948, may have summarized the battle with the words:
"The Jewish Quarter has been destroyed. This renders the Jews' return to this place impossible."
But the Jews did return, there and to other parts of the Old City, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount.
Of course, this has not stopped Hamas and like-minded groups, who are responsible for endless terror attacks against worshippers at Jewish shrines (Rachel's Tomb, Joseph's Tomb, synagogues in the Gaza Strip's Gush Katif area, and more), to try once again to ignite the atmosphere. After all, that is what they did when the Hurva Synagogue was restored. But we must not let them make us flinch, even if "enlightened" and hypocritical Europe once again condemns us.
We could also share with Palestinians and Europeans the most recent discovery of historian Dr. Aryeh Morgenstern, who exposed the truth behind the incitement and lies of the "Al-Aqsa is in danger" campaign in connection with the Hurva Synagogue's restoration. It seems that what especially bothers the Palestinians, about both the Hurva and Tiferet Yisrael synagogues, is their height, about 23 meters (75 feet), the same as their original height.
It turns out that during Ottoman times the Jews were given special permission to build structures that tower over Muslim religious buildings on the Temple Mount. This permission was given by none other than a Muslim architect named Asad Effendi, who was sent from Istanbul by the sultan to oversee the repair of mosques on the Temple Mount.
That is how the Hurva and Tiferet Yisrael synagogues came to rise to such heights. Now they are rising anew "from amidst the turmoil" — the Temple's destruction and the Exile — as the renowned liturgical poet Rabbi Shlomo Halevi Alkabetz wrote in his famous prayer "Lekhah Dodi."