In the summer of 1920, Herbert Samuel, the high commissioner of British Mandate Palestine, made his way to the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City to mark the Sabbath with his fellow Jews. He entered the Hurva Synagogue, one of the most exquisite edifices in the Jewish world, with its marble floor and its dome adorned with designs that imitated the starry sky. As the guest of honor, Samuel was invited to read the hafatarah, the prophetic portion, from the magnificent bima, or podium, in the center of the synagogue.
It was the Sabbath immediately following the Ninth of Av, when the destruction of the Temple had been mourned. His Majesty’s representative opened the Bible and proclaimed to the assembled Isaiah’s immortal words: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people…O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!” On the heels of the 1917 Balfour declaration promising a Jewish home in Palestine, the messianic era almost appeared to be at hand.
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