My alarm goes off at 3:45am.
My first thought?
This is nuts. I’m going back to sleep. I need more sleep.
If I don’t get out of bed right now, I’ll miss my ride to the Temple Mount!
A few minutes later, I was out the door, hot coffee in hand, my prayer shawl and phylacteries in my backpack. The drive to Jerusalem was smooth – the roads were clear and the bustling entrance to the Holy City was unusually quiet.
After immersing ourselves in the purifying waters – according to Jewish law you cannot ascend the Temple Mount before immersion – our group met at the Western Wall, where we offered our morning prayers before ascending the Temple Mount.
This was my second time ascending the Temple Mount, a privilege which none of my ancestors – as far back as the Second Temple period, which ended in the year 70 CE – ever enjoyed. Yet here I was walking up the ramp surrounded by Israeli security, heading towards the holiest site in the world.
Being that this was my second visit, I was less surprised by the heavy security surrounding our group. I already knew the rules – no praying and no closing your eyes in meditation. As for the Islamic Waqf reps – who represent the Jordanian kingdom as administers of the Temple Mount, and who follow you to ensure you don’t pray at any point on the tour – I’ve learned to block them from my mind and my heart.
The Israeli security detail for tours on the Temple Mount are understandably on edge. Violence can and has erupted there with no prior warning, and their job is to ensure our safety throughout the tour. For the most part, the tour went smoothly, except for when we stopped to take a unique photo and things got intense, if only for a moment.
In our group was an elderly gentleman named Chaim who shared a special story with us. He had been a paratrooper in the IDF during the Six-Day War in 1967, when Israel regained control of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount for the first time in nearly two millennia. Chaim served in one of the units that stormed the Temple Mount area and pushed the Jordanian forces out. But when Chaim asked to stand and pose for a photo in the exact spot where he had stood fifty years ago after Jerusalem’s liberation, the Waqf reps became agitated.
In the end, after the Israeli security detail exchanged a few heated words with Waqf reps, Chaim was allowed to take his special photo.
Our tour continued and I met Shlomo, who also had a unique story to tell. Shlomo lives in Jerusalem’s Old City, and that day marked one year since he had ascended the Temple Mount every single day, 365 days straight.
As we stood a few feet from where the daily sacrifices are offered, Shlomo, a biblical scholar, went through the entire daily sacrificial ritual on the Temple Mount. He described the sprinkling of the blood on the altar, the pouring of the wine libations, the blowing of the shofars, and prostrations. It was extremely moving to hear about the sacrificial ceremony in detail only feet from where it was performed in the Bible, from where it is meant to be performed.
The tour continued and ended with us standing only a hundred feet from where the Holy of Holies once stood. The Dome of the Rock mosque sits atop that spot, and a door to the mosque was open. We were able to glimpse, if only from a distance, the very space through which all of God’s blessings and bounty are channeled.
I hope that by ascending the Temple Mount and by writing about the experience, I will awaken in myself and others a thirst for the Jerusalem where God’s Temple will stand as a house of worship for all nations.
May it be so speedily in our days!