Don’t visit the Temple Mount

I still thought I’d be able to steal at least a moment of inner peace and use it to feel something special.

Orthodox Jews on the Temple Mount (photo credit: MENACHEM SHLOMO)
Orthodox Jews on the Temple Mount
(photo credit: MENACHEM SHLOMO)
My father, a Six Day War veteran, has often described to me the feeling in the air as he heard over the radio the news that the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount had been captured while he was fighting in the Golan; the ecstasy, the euphoria, the feeling of complete and utter triumph.
The exhausted young soldiers, raw from the fighting and the death, immediately burst out with a gusto they did not know they still had in them into Naomi Shemer’s “Jerusalem of Gold.” All these years later, the song still holds so much emotion for him.
This Jerusalem Day marked 51 years since that miraculous moment, since Motte Gur’s message was broadcast across the country: “Har Habayit Biyadenu!” “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
I remember my first visit to the Western Wall and how it felt so intensely spiritual. Even now, living in Jerusalem, whenever I visit it, I feel a connection to Judaism and feel compelled to pray. With this history, with the weight of the site coupled with the weight of the day, I decided I had to pay a visit to my people’s holiest site, to climb atop Temple Mount.
But I wanted to make sure I did it right.
I spoke to a rabbi who advised me about the unparalleled sanctity of the space. In order to properly prepare, he explained to me how I had to purify myself by immersing in a mikve, or a ritual bath, completely void of “hatzitzot” or anything getting between myself and the purifying waters.
I woke up at sunrise. I dressed in white. As I dipped in the cleansing mikve waters, I felt the anticipation of the hundreds of generations before me fluttering in my stomach. The anticipation of the millions of nameless, faceless Jews persecuted all over the world, whose prayers pointed in this very direction each time they cried out to God to protect them, each time they begged the world to be better.
I contemplated the fortune that I, a young American-Israeli who knows nothing of the real pain of being Jewish that had been experienced by my grandparents, have the unexplainable ability to visit this sacred location. While just a few decades ago Jews were shoved into ovens, with my head held high and a kipa on my head I was about to walk onto Temple Mount.
In that preparation I felt a oneness between myself and my father, my country, my people, my heritage. The feeling was almost Messianic.
But the experience turned out to be anything but.
Arriving at the bridge that takes you up above the Kotel, the first thing I noticed was that there were two lines: one for Israelis, one for tourists.
Upon going through security, we were told to hand our ID cards to a police officer so that he could do a background check. We waited until around 60 Israelis were gathered in order to ascend the mountain.
Tourists were allowed to simply go up.
Us Israelis were then herded onto the mountain. Like convicts, we were surrounded by about 15 police officers who told us when to walk, when to stop. They filmed us to make sure nobody did anything inflammatory... like praying.
Asian tourists, walking around the mountain freely, took photographs of us, the Jews, surrounded, filmed, escorted as we slowly shuffled around. Mumbling words of prayer out of sight of the policemen and the Arab onlookers, hoping to not be caught on camera by some European NGO and portrayed as a face of a radical Jewish instigator.
But who could really focus on prayer when you're being watched by so many people?
It’s not like I don’t understand the delicacy of the status quo in that spot: the fact that the installation of metal detectors in 2017 led to stabbing attacks across Jerusalem and the country, that Ariel Sharon’s visit to the site in 2000 led to the Second Intifada, that the erection of a mechitza at the Western Wall led to mass killings in 1929 in Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron.
But I still expected to be overcome with the experience, the depth of the moment, the sanctity of the location. I still thought I’d be able to steal at least a moment of inner peace and use it to feel something special.
Motte Gur’s famous words now circled my head, seemingly mocking my naive enthusiasm, the country’s foolish optimism in 1967.
One opinion I had learned said that the Temple was twice the size of the Dome of the Rock. People from all over the world would travel to Jerusalem to witness the beauty of the building whose golden crown, legend has it, would burn your eyes if you looked directly at it during the day.
I looked toward the mosque situated there and into the eyes of the Jordanian policeman who stared me down while filming me.
I remembered how excited I had been to come here. At that moment I couldn't remember why.
As if my eyes had been burned, I felt compelled to look away.
The author is an editor for The Jerusalem Post