My first visit to Temple Mount (aka Haram El Sharif) took place sometime in late December 1984, when, as part of a United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Young People’s Mission I visited Israel. That visit was “just” another part of our Mission, therefore, I do not remember the exact date or time at which in His Infinite Majesty and Mercy, the G-d of Israel, granted me the extra-ordinary gift of walking onto His Most Holy Place on Earth. What I do remember about that first visit is the overwhelming sense of awe and wonder I felt as I walked through the Maghrebi Gate. As I took my first three steps forward onto Mount Moriah I recalled the words of the 11th Blessing of the Amidah prayer: “And to Jerusalem, Your city, return in mercy, and dwell therein as You have spoken; and rebuild it soon, in our days, as an everlasting structure and the throne of David may You speedily establish therein Blessed are You, Adoshem, Builder of Jerusalem.” All these years later I am still at a great loss to explain why I recited the 11th Blessing of the Amidah instead of reciting the more appropriate Shehecheyanu blessing – “Blessed are You, our G-d, King of the universe who has supported us, protected us and brought us to this moment.”
As I finished my prayer, I realized that I had become separated from my group. At that moment one of the Muslim gatekeepers, smiled at me and in proper British English said: “Sa’laam, standing young lady who silently moves her lips for the One to hear, you are with the large group of Americans, they have walked to the entrance of Al-Aqsa. Over there to the right. Do you see them?” With a hurried nod and “Yes, thank you.” I dashed towards my group.
After I immigrated to Israel in 1988, I developed the habit of visiting the Temple Mount regularly. I did not think I was violating the rabbinical injunction against visiting on Temple Mount (I choose to rely on Rabbi Shlomo Goren’s ruling on the matter), nor did I think that I was committing a militant act which could potentially insult or incite Muslims. My visits there were respectful and I was ever mindful of the special privilege that G-d was granting me. I always spiritually prepared by carrying out full ritual immersion in the cleansing waters of the Mikvah (ritual bath house) the night before. I considered the visits a private matter between G-d and me so in order to avoid having to explain to “the Mikvah lady” why I needed to undergo frequent immersion I took to rotating between four Mikvahs in different neighborhoods. I visited and prayed on Temple Mount with such great frequency between March of 1988 and September of 2000 that I truly have no idea how many times G-d blessed me with the privilege of walking and praying on His Beautiful Mountain.
Over time I developed a nodding acquaintance with several of the Muslim gatekeepers, Israeli police officers and a few of the Haram El-Sharif gardeners. When His Majesty, King Hussein of The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan passed away in February of 1999, it was one of these gardeners who helped me to collect a small bag of Mount Moriah’s soil which I sent to Jordan with a friend of mine, a diplomat, attending the funeral. This diplomat, who enjoyed a very close friendship with the King, shared with His Majesty’s family that he wished to add earth from Haram El Sharif to the King’s grave, they gave their consent. Upon his return my friend told me that the family had been very pleased by this small gesture.
Looking back, I am thankful for each one of those visits to Temple Mount. I am most thankful for having safely returned from my last visit to Temple Mount in September 2000. I remember that on 29 September 2000, the day after Ariel Sharon along with an escort of over 1,000 Israeli police visited the the Temple Mount Complex, the Muslim gatekeepers and the Israeli police officers seemed tense, but none of them prevented my entry. Coming up along the western side of the Dome of Rock, I noticed that large numbers of Muslims were arriving via Bab Al-Qattanin (The Cotton Merchants’ Gate). As I walked up the steps towards the Dome of the Rock, a journalist acquaintance of mine, recognized me. We greeted one another and then he quickly added: “The Peace of Allah be upon you. My friend, you must leave now, it will be difficult for you here today.” Noting the deep concern on his face I heeded his advice and left. By the time I had come round about to the Temple Mount’s Western Wall, stones were drizzling down upon the Jewish worshipers and I could hear the report of tear gas canisters being fired. I have not visited Temple Mount since.
Today is the fast day of Tish’a B’Av, on this day we mourn the destruction of the Jewish Temple. As I read the Book of Eicha (Lamentations) I remembered and mourned for what we have lost. I especially thought about my many joyous visits up to Temple Mount when I read: “My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. Surely the L-rd’s mercies are not consumed, surely His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. ‘The L-rd is my portion’ saith my soul; ‘Therefore will I hope in Him’. The L-rd is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him.” (Eicha 3:20-25)
Reading those words on this day of great sadness caused my soul to rejoice for I live with the hope that one day in the not too distant future we, all the children of Abraham, will let go of the angry tensions between us and will be able to enjoy peaceful and meaningful visits to G-d’s Holy Mount Moriah. May it be His will to grant us this gift very soon, “Bezrat HaShem! Insh’Allah!”
All photographs for this blog post were scanned from original prints taken between 1988 and 2000 by Isa David-Ben-Rafael, they are owned by IsraeLightly.