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Mercaz — “the center” — had finally fulfilled its ambitious name. From the beginning of the crisis, which Rabbi Zvi Yehudah had seemed to intuit in his Independence Day speech, to the war’s astonishing culmination, when he was one of the first civilians at the Western Wall, Mercaz had been central to the greatest moment in Israel’s history.
Mercaz felt vindicated in its most daring theological premise: that secular Zionism was a trustworthy repository of the redemptive process. The secular state that had tried to sever the people of Israel from the God of Israel had instead confirmed faith. For Mercaz, the kibbutznik paratroopers at the Wall were a revelation. Who could have imagined kibbutzniks praying at the symbol of piety and exile?
Rabbi Zvi Yehudah entered the study hall. Students held each other by the shoulders and danced before him. “Raise your heads, gates,” they sang, “and admit the glorious King.”
The rabbi spoke from a lectern draped with an Israeli flag. In covering a lectern that held holy books with the flag of secular Israel, Rabbi Zvi Yehudah was saying: This flag is no less holy than the velvet cloth covering the Torah ark behind me. On the wall hung a banner that read, “May the Temple be rebuilt, speedily in our time” — prayer turned into demand.
Voice strong, tone defiant, the rabbi warned the world not to interfere with God’s plan and try to wrench the liberated lands from Israel’s control. Not even the democratically elected government of Israel, he continued, had the right to withdraw from the territories — a warning aimed at the Labor-led national unity government, which declared its willingness to exchange territory for peace.
Hanan Porat approached the lectern. Broad-shouldered and powerfully handsome, with a wave of brown hair, he projected far beyond his short stature. Of the dozen paratroopers in Mercaz — who were holy, Rabbi Zvi Yehudah liked to say, only half joking, because they descended from heaven like the Torah at Sinai — the rabbi especially loved Hanan, heir of Kfar Etzion.
Hanan embodied the Mercaz synthesis of yeshiva student and sabra, spirit and matter. And now Hanan carried the additional aura of the Six-Day War’s most heroic battle, Ammunition Hill, where paratroopers had fought face-to-face with Jordanian soldiers in the trenches. Hanan happened not to have actually fought in the trenches and had seen little fighting during the war, all of which Hanan acknowledged. Still, for young religious Zionists, Hanan was a hero.