SHAVUOT 2022. THE TEMPLE MOUNT CALLED TO ME.
I don’t often go to Jerusalem. It’s a long drive, 3 hours in each direction (depending on the time of day). It isn’t easy to get there in time for the very limited hours Jews are permitted to ascend the Temple Mount.
It wasn’t convenient or practical to go but something deep inside said, that’s where I need to be. That’s where Jews are supposed to be on Shavuot.
Shavuot is one of the 3 pilgrimage holidays where, in ancient Israel, Jews ascended the Temple in the heart of Jerusalem. Aliyah, the Hebrew term for this pilgrimage describes both the physical journey and its impact on the Jewish soul. Jews make Aliyah to Israel, and we make Aliyah, “ascension by foot”, to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
Does it make any sense to say that while I’m not religious and don’t feel called to prayer, my Jewish soul knows where it belongs? Some things are so emotionally huge that they transcend the rational and as such are hard to articulate. The significance of the Temple Mount on the Jewish soul is one of those things…
One short, precious hour. From 13:30-14:30. I wouldn’t make it in time for the morning aliyah but I could make it for mid-day when non-Muslims are permitted to visit the holiest place on earth for the Jewish People. Christians and other tourists are also unwelcome but, although restricted in hours, are granted a completely different experience than that of Jewish pilgrims.
I had no idea how different.
As we walked up the Mughrabi bridge, the only entrance permitted for non-Muslims, the Jews in front of me started singing. Why did that make tears come to my eyes? Why does looking at the video still make tears come to my eyes?
The word “uplifting,” seems so banal and inappropriate here… I lack the words to describe the feeling of my soul unfolding, as if only here, like this, in song and with pride, in this place, we become whole.
I didn’t even look down at the Jews praying next to the Kotel. They were outside. I was going inside.
The Israeli policewoman at the entrance stopped me. Her job is to provide instructions, count and divide pilgrims into groups – individual Jews are not allowed to walk alone, they need police protection and the Muslim Waqf overseers want to watch every step Jews take.
The policewoman said my clothes would be a problem. I had been to the Temple Mount before and, like any holy site, the dress code is modest. That’s why I had deliberately chosen a long sleeve shirt I could button to the neck. I was wearing pants like I always do and like I had on a previous visit. Same as I would wear to the Kotel.
I untucked my shirt which, a bit long, created an additional covering as if I had put on a mini-skirt over my pants. She thought that was good enough and let me pass but the moment I stepped through the Temple Mount gate one of the Waqf guards insisted that I put on a hideous skirt they had for “immodest” visitors. He also tried to force me into a matching over-shirt. When I said “But I am covered” he let me go.
Later other Waqf guards told me that I needed to also cover my hair “to respect the Masjid” (the mosque). Their new way of presenting the Temple Mount is to call the entire compound Al Aqsa, as if everything there is a mosque. Changing the name of the place is another way to erase the original name, in Arabic “Beit el Makdes”, in Hebrew “Beit Hameekdash” in English “The [Jewish] Temple.”
That’s when I realized that the over-shirt the Waqf guard was trying to press on me was actually a hooded poncho. This conveniently provides arm covering and hair covering in one garment. It also clearly marks non-Muslims in a way that they can be easily recognized from a distance.
All religious places have a dress code. That’s normal. What’s not normal is changing the rules, incrementally increasing in demands, becoming more and more extreme. That’s not asking others to be respectful, it is a declaration of dominance. It’s a demand for submission.
And clothes are just a symbol of the greater coercion happening here.
RACE BASED DISCRIMINATION
Entering the Temple Mount compound, I was speaking in English to a tourist. The Waqf guard assumed that I was also a tourist and as a result, I was allowed to walk freely on the Mount.
Without even realizing where I was going, my feet pulled me to the most beautiful place on earth, the place where the ancient Jewish Temple used to stand.
Note: Jews are not allowed to stand on the Dome of the Rock plaza, not just because of Islamic coercion. Those who follow halachic rules do not step on this holy ground out of fear of not adhering to the rules of how a Jew must approach the Temple.
My feeling about this is that this holy site is being constantly defiled by enemies of Israel. I am certain that God will forgive me if, out of ignorance I do something wrong. I am not a halachic authority of any kind and so it is worth noting that many of those who are, have deemed it permissible and even important for Jews to ascend the Temple Mount but instruct to stay off the plaza. There are organizations that guide Jews on ascension according to halacha, with ritual bathing (for purification) beforehand, not wearing leather shoes etc. There are lockers for shoes at the entrance of the Mount and there have been recent stories of glass shards strewn on the pathway to make the visit to Har Habyit, the Temple Mount, particularly “pleasant” for religious Jews walking barefoot.
Jews are herded in groups around the Mount by Israeli police (for their safety) and Waqf guards (to oversee them). Jews are not allowed to stray from the path, disconnect from the group, sit and relax under a tree and are urged to walk fast. Many Jews deliberately dawdle and more and more pray openly and sing as loudly as they can.
Not marked as a Jew, I could walk where I wanted. For the first time, I could do what I always wanted – sit down and just soak up the atmosphere. Like the Muslims can.
What a moment! Joy and revulsion rolled into one. To be in the place that makes my identity complete I had to hide my true self.
WHY ARE THEY SCREAMING ALLAH AKBAR?
The tourist walking next to me cringed as the wave of noise hit our ears. He asked: “Why are they screaming Allah Akbar? This is very scary.”
Muslim women were screaming Allah Akbar at the Jews beginning their tour. Men and children joined in, the sound carrying palpable waves of hate. These Arabs know the limits of the laws – had they physically attacked anyone, they would be arrested but there is no law against violence by sound. Even when they scream “Khaybar, Khaybar ya Yahud” an actual threat (it means, we will do to you what Mohammad did to the Jews of Khaybar in 628 CE i.e., slaughter everyone).
I saw women and very small children get in the face of Israeli policemen, scream at them, threaten them and make painfully loud siren sounds at them. Some of these women are professional screamers, paid to harass Jews and the police who are seen as symbols of the Jewish State. Others join in, just for the fun of it.
I explained to the tourist that the Muslims are angry that Jews are on the Temple Mount. Stunned, he asked: “Why are people who behave like that allowed to enter this holy place? Why aren’t they made to leave?”
FORCED TO LEAVE
Even before the hour was up, Waqf guards started sweeping the area, telling non-Muslims to leave. The Jews who had been in the group had already been pushed out. The police were finishing their shift, so they were about to leave. That’s when a group of women and boys decided to follow them, screaming: “Shoo! Shoo! Get back! Zionists shoo!” as if they were driving away animals.
A word choice that shows hierarchy and domination – one doesn’t tell another human being to “shoo!” Did they say “Zionists” instead of “Jews” because they know that many of the policemen serving there are Arabs?
Note the boy in the video and how he “aims” the chair he’s holding at the policemen. What do you think he will do in the future, with other more “efficient” tools?
BACK TO THE KOTEL
I left the Temple Mount both more alive than ever before and at the same time, crushed.
Walking back down to the Kotel I heard a tourist ask his guide: “So why is the Wall so important? What’s its significance?” The guide started explaining that Jews, for 2000 years prayed to the Wall. That’s when I interrupted: “The Wall isn’t significant in and of itself. It’s what’s on top that is significant. It’s like standing outside your garage door. That’s not your home.”
And therein lies the core of the problem. After 2000 years of exile, the re-establishment of the Jewish State, and the reunification of our eternal capital Jerusalem, we are not yet home.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Go. Ascend the Temple Mount. Walk where our ancestors walked. Jews and, through their Jewish Messiah, also Christians are rooted there. Non-believers and people of other faiths should also go and soak up the beauty of this ancient site. As the House of God, the Temple Mount is supposed to be a place of prayer for ALL nations. It is wrong for one People to claim dominance and push out all others. It is wrong to be violent and spew hate in a holy place. It is wrong to watch children being raised in hate and turn a blind eye. It is wrong to let injustice continue because it is inconvenient to deal with. No Jew should ever have to hide his or her identity – particularly not in the holiest place to Jews in the world.
Nature abhors a vacuum. If Jews do not ascend the Temple Mount, despite the hate, despite the harassment and humiliation, others will. Zion is our ancestral homeland; Jerusalem is our eternal capital, and the Temple Mount is her beating heart. He who is sovereign over the Temple Mount is sovereign over the Land. The Muslims know that. The question is what about the Jews?