The 23rd Annual Tisha B'Av Eve March Around Jerusalem's Walls, 31 July 2017 (Photo by Yoeli Kaufman)
We are again dwelling in Sukkot as our ancestors did so long ago. Simhat Torah will soon arrive and we’ll begin the Torah cycle all over again with Genesis as we have done so many times before. The stories are all so familiar to us. Elohim created the Garden of Eden and placed the first couple in it. The story after the great flood quickly leads to Abram, whose name God changed to Abraham.
I was again asked to read Torah this year during Rosh Hashanah. Abraham’s gut-wrenching experience with losing Ishmael is followed by the story of his almost losing Isaac on Mount Moriah, the mountain of God. There were starts and stops on Abraham’s journey to becoming the father of nations. So is often the case with the unfolding of our own lives.
Mount Moriah continues to be a sacred place today. It is the traditional site of the two previous Jewish temples. Although our temples were holy places and had long and glorious histories, it was God’s providing his own sacrifice on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22 that initially made it so sacred for millennia of Jews to come.
One cannot travel far in Israel without being reminded of Jewish attempts to touch the divine. Einstein defined true religion and science like this, “The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as . . . science.”
We were planning on visiting the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Technion when I saw the 23rd annual Tisha B’Av Eve Walk around the ancient walls of Jerusalem advertised in the Jerusalem Post. We could always visit the Weizmann Institute and the Technion, but the march around Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av only happens, well, on Tisha B’Av. So off to Jerusalem we went.
The march began in Independence Park with the reading of Eichah and then proceeded around the ancient walls, but the highlight of any trip to Jerusalem is a trip to the Kotel. So we eagerly anticipated visited the Western Wall Plaza during the daytime hours. Because parking is limited near the Western Wall Plaza, we decided to park our car at the First Station and take a bus to the Dung Gate.
Trains started traveling between Jaffa and the First Station in Jerusalem in 1892. Today it is an upscale destination of shops and restaurants on Rehov David Remez. Anna and I were standing on the sidewalk outside the First Station trying to figure out which bus to take when a taxi cab pulled up and offered to give us a ride. She grabbed me by the hand and said, “He’ll take us to the Kotel.”
Instead of taking us to the Kotel via the main roads, the Arab cab driver took us on a tour of Silwan. The trip through Silwan was totally unexpected and had not been authorized by us. I already knew that Silwan was a hotbed of anti-Israel activity, but Anna was previously unaware that rocks had been thrown at Jews who accidentally entered the neighborhood.
The purpose of terrorism is to make Jews feel unsafe in their own country. Scenes of the 2000 lynching and barbaric mutilation of Vadim Norzhich and Yosef Avrahami in Ramallah flashed in my head. In fact, the Shin Bet dismantled an 8-man terrorist cell nicknamed the Ghosts of Silwan the next month after we were there. They were planning shooting attacks against Jews. Arabs who have supported the selling of homes to Jews in the area have themselves become victims of violence.
I could hear Anna’s unintentional sighs in the back seat. We didn’t know where the Arab cab driver was taking us, but it didn’t seem to be where we had asked to go. I thought, “We need to get out of here.” We would have literally jumped out of the car during one of his stops when the street was blocked, but I realized that an elderly Jewish couple alone among the neighborhood thugs would not be good either.
Anna and I helplessly watched the neighborhood thugs roaming the trash strewn street outside the taxi windows. They looked back at us strangely as if they were thinking, “What are you doing here?” Then suddenly we were at the Kotel. I was never so happy to pay the taxi driver double just to let us out of the car.
After visiting the Kotel, Anna sat down next to a group of people who she thought was simply waiting for the next bus. The area outside the Dung Gate was noisy and chaotic. Then I saw a man in a wheelchair in the middle of the group broadcasting his voice through a megaphone. I recognized the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement signs. This was Gershon Salomon. He’s a much older version of the soldier who entered the Temple Mount so heroically after the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War, but he continues to promote the building of the Third Temple.
Abraham would not recognize Mount Moriah today. The descendants of both Isaac and Ishmael live here. Yes, Jerusalem is reunited, but it doesn’t always feel like it. The sons of Ishmael claim our ancient city as their own and are emboldened by an international community that ignores the long Jewish history here stretching back thousands of years.
Although we caressed the ancient stones of the Kotel on Tisha B’Av, the rest of Jerusalem did not feel so holy that day. Antisemitism and mixing politics with religion too often has caused Muslims to perpetrate acts of violence against Jews in their own capital city. Terror is profoundly cruel and is meant to be debilitating. Jews visiting our most sacred site should not have to be concerned for their safety. We long for the day when Jerusalem is again a sacred mountain of God.
You may write to Yoeli Kaufman at firstname.lastname@example.org