Last night I was following accusations by Bibi Netanyahu’s only credible opponent in the Likud party, Moshe Feiglin, that a published ad signed by him and calling for a mass expulsion of Arabs from Temple Mount was nothing more than a provocation. Indeed, Feiglin does go up to Temple Mount on the 19th of each Jewish month – but other than that, everything else in that story was false.
It reminded me of my own climb up the holiest mountain, back in the summer of 2004. It began on the Shabbat I spent as guest of the Zik family, in the Givat HaMivtar neighborhood of Jerusalem. My host was the late Adir Zik, perhaps the most effective anti-establishment voice Israel’s national-religious camp ever possessed—and at a time when that voice was needed most urgently, following Oslo and two Intifadas. Adir’s Friday morning drive show on Arutz 7 had the highest ratings for its time slot, offering Adir’s feisty, unabashed attacks on many foes, but, most notably, on the media, Tikshoret in Hebrew, which he renamed Tishkoret, meaning, roughly, a source of lies.
Adir had already gone up to the Mountaintop dozens of times, under all kinds of conditions, with all sorts of restrictions and limitations and check-ups. But that summer, the gates were opened once more and Jews were allowed to come in. It was still forbidden to pray there, or even to stop and shut one’s eyes in meditation. But it was permitted to enter the site. So I asked Adir to take me to Temple Mount as soon as he could.
Frankly, I really was not your typical national-religious guy at the time. My Judaism was the Diaspora kind, theoretical, hesitating, untanned and immascular. Holy symbols frightened rather than excited me, and a tour through the courtyard on Temple Mount struck me, as it does most of the world’s Jews, as dangerous for twofold reasons: because of the Arabs and because of the chance that one would set foot on something sacred and then go figure…
But I was so tempted by the opportunity to spend an entire morning with Adir Zik, and to be engaged in such an adventure to boot. Because Adir was such a charismatic man, and as such he was always surrounded by people. So catching an intimate morning with him was worth the potential trouble with God and the Arabs.
Adir was not a man of thought without action and my request soon led to a careful study of his schedule, full of chemotherapy treatments and film shooting sessions. The only free time was the very next morning, Sunday, June 13.
After dipping in the mikvah and attending the morning service, we went to the Old City and parked at the bottom of the great slope that leads up to the Western Wall. I suggested letting Adir off at the gate, but he insisted on climbing with me from the parking lot. It was a difficult task. His steps were short and fatigued, but he scarcely stopped to rest. Didn’t groan either.
At a certain point, Adir announced with utmost seriousness that my life was about to change forever. Both in my dreams and my waking moments I would never stop yearning for this glorious place. From now on, I would divide all the Jews I know into two groups: those who went up to the Mount, for whatever reason, and those who stayed below, regardless of why.
I took a glimpse at him and searched in vain for a smile or a wink that would reassure me he hadn’t really meant what he just said. Seriously, Adir, my life would change? Between you and me, isn’t this just another archeological site? But he remained as serious as a steel wall in Chase Manhattan’s basement and my heart became filled with affection for this man, who insisted not only on surviving his physiological volcano, but was constantly seeking other active volcanoes, at the feet of which he’d stretch out tablecloths and picnic baskets. I hugged him the way you hug a friend when you have nothing left to say and we continued climbing.
Once upon a time, an elderly Chaldean brought his son here and erected an altar, probably right where the paved courtyard is stretching today, near the northern edge of this magnificent mount. Another time, a lad in his sixties fell asleep here dreaming about angels and ladders, and when he woke up in the middle of the night, he realized that this was not an ordinary place but The Place which puts everything else in a different perspective, including one’s dreams, but mainly one’s wakeful hours.
Two aging Jews, we walked at a deliberately moderate pace along the edges of the Holy Mount, and the Mount bathed in Jerusalem’s brilliant white light as a cool breeze was blowing from Mount Olives and Mount Scopus and whichever other mount you please, and the birds were chirping with the most inappropriate delight.
Had we stopped to pray, the nice Border Policemen would have immediately been alerted to kindly drag us out. So, instead, we strolled in the safe periphery around the great plaza, where it was undoubtedly certain that neither Arc nor Vail had ever stood, nor Altar nor Table, Candlestick, Shewbread, Washbasin or Pillar of Incense. We appeared to be conversing, but in fact we whispered psalms which most religious Jews know by heart.
One thing have I asked of God which I will seek: that I may dwell in the house of God all the days of my life, to behold the sweetness of God and to be in His temple.
Jews recite Psalm 27 from the beginning of the month of Elul until the end of Sukkot, and the two of us almost burst into tears when we heard these moving verses. The Waqf guard who was following us was listening too, trying to figure out if we were engaged in mundane chatter or daring to communicate with our Father in Heaven.
Having descended, after nearly an hour of strolling at the feet of our heavenly father, in the white light and mischievous breeze, I didn’t want to disappoint Adir by telling him that nothing had changed inside me, and that I was still the same aging Jew I had been before.
But then I caught a glimpse of the Wailing Wall to my right, with the swarming crowd of my brothers and sisters down below, in the outer part of God’s backyard, with Herodian and Ottoman stones towering over the parking lot-shaped plaza and crazed swallows chasing after clouds of mosquitoes, and it all made sense. I understood why they were packed like rats down there, while the Waqf were flaunting with light sandals and blue robes their ownership of the real thing up at the top. It was our primeval fear of making mistakes, of stepping on something, spoiling, insulting, inciting…
Standing up there, my back to the Temple Mount gate, I wanted to shout to my brothers and sisters down below, among the overgrown weeds in God’s neglected backyard: Yo, you down there, come on up here, there’s plenty of room for everyone!
Since then, I have completely changed and my life is not as it used to be, especially when I think of the Western Wall, not with yearning any longer, but with shame and humiliation. Just like Adir Zik had warned me.
May his soul rest in peace, and may we merit to see each other again in a redeemed world.
An early version of this piece was originally published at Hopeways.org
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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