The area in front of the Western Wall did not look back then as it does today, with a big, broad plaza. Only a narrow little alley separated the Kotel from the Arab houses a few yards away. The British Government forbade us to place there a Torah Ark, tables or benches in the alley, lest it become a synagogue. Even a stool to sit on could not be brought to the Kotel.
The British had instituted numerous ordinances to restrict Jewish activity at our most holy place. We were forbidden to pray out loud, or to read from the Torah (we heard the Torah reading at synagogues in the Jewish Quarter). Most important, we were forbidden to sound the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. British policemen stationed at the Kotel strictly enforced these rules. On the High Holidays the Police Commander himself stood there to ensure that we should not sound the single blast that ends the fast.
On Yom Kippur 1930 I was praying at the Kotel. During the afternoon intermission between the prayers, I overheard people whispering and asking each other: "Where will we go to hear the Shofar? It's impossible to blow here. Look, they have as many policemen here as people praying..."
Hearing these whisperings, I thought to myself: "How can we miss out on sounding this important Shofar call that proclaims G-d's sovereignty and echoes the Redemption of Israel?"
I approached Rabbi Yitzchak Horenstein, who served as the Rabbi of our makeshift "congregation," and said to him: "Please give me a Shofar."
"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 quickly turned his face away, but he first cast a glance at the prayer stand at the end of the alley. I understood: the Shofar was in the stand.
As Yom Kippur drew to a close, I walked over to the stand and leaned on it. I opened the drawer and slipped the shofar into my shirt. I now had the Shofar, but what if they caught me before I had a chance to blow it? Still unmarried and following Ashkenazic custom, I had no tallit. So I turned to a person at my side, and asked him to give me his tallit for cover. My request must have seemed strange to him, but Jews are kind, especially at the holiest moments of the holiest day, and he handed me his tallit without a word.
Wrapped in the tallit, I felt that I had created my own little private domain. All around me, the police hover and a foreign government oppresses and restricts the people of Israel even on our holiest day, at our holiest place. But here under this tallit is a whole other domain. Here I am under the dominion of my Father in Heaven. Here I shall do as He commands me, and no force on earth will stop me.
I waited nervously as the final verses of the closing Neillah prayer -- "Hear O Israel," "Blessed be the name" and "The L-rd is G-d" -- were proclaimed. I mustered all my strength and courage. I quickly took out the Shofar and blew a long, resolute and resounding blast.
Everyone around me was shocked. Who was it that dared to defy the British? Everything then happened very quickly. Many hands grabbed me. I removed the tallit from my head, and there before me stood the Police Commander himself.
I was immediately arrested and taken to the kishla, the prison in the Old City, and placed under Arab guard. Hours passed; I received no food or water to break my fast. Finally at midnight, the police received an order to release me, and he let me out without a word.
I later learned that when the chief Rabbi A.Y. Kook heard of my arrest, he immediately contacted the High Commissioner of Palestine and asked him to release me. When his request was refused, he stated that he would not break his fast until I was freed. The High Commissioner resisted for many hours, but finally, out of respect for the Chief Rabbi, he had no choice but to set me free.
For the next eighteen years, until the Arab conquest of the Old City in 1948, the Shofar was sounded at the Kotel every Yom Kippur, despite the inevitable arrests. The British understood the important significance of this Shofar blast. They knew that it would eventually blow away their reign from our land, even as the walls of Jericho crumbled before Joshua's Shofar.
The oppressing British used their police forces to silence our Shofar. Yet our tradition continued. Every Yom Kippur the Shofar was sounded by brave men who were ready to be arrested for staking our determined claim to our holiest place.