The air inside and outside the community center in the Shmuel HaNavi neighborhood in Jerusalem was rife with the kind of excitement one finds in rock concerts. Hundreds (maybe as many as two thousand) of religious Jews, mostly in Haredi garb but quite a few in “modern” street clothes, and an enormous band of local children, pushed, shoved, pressed, retreated temporarily before the loud demands from organizers, then got back to pushing as relentlessly as before. If the measure of such an event was how intensely thrilled folks were to be in it – this one broke a few records. If the core idea of the entire event, which was to urge our Redemption from above by starting it down below, right here on Earth, then this one had to have cut through a whole bunch of “klipot” (evil shells).
The organizers, the Movement for the Renewal of the Holy Temple and The Temple Institute (special thanks to Hillel Weiss who was very helpful to this reporter) are comprised of hard core believers in the principle of “acting as if” – or, if you will, attempting to do the maximum on our part in adhering to the commandments which are connected to the sacred labors of the holy Temple, gone now some 1942 years, so that up in Heaven a complementary response would usher in the Messiah and bring about the rebuilding of the actual holy Temple.
This yearnings, coupled with the voracious curiosity of a crowd of many hundreds of Jews of all sizes and weights and fragrances and sounds and colors, made for the most fantastic street theater yours truly has encountered in years. Move over, Occupy Wall Street, make room for Occupy Temple Mount.
The event began with a scholarly discussion of all the many aspects of the Pascal sacrifice, a two hour session before a very deeply interested crowd of mostly men in the neighborhood Moriah synagogue, with a huge assembly of children who watched the slanted, crooked, computer-generated slide show on the bare wall with an intensity and joy that easily topped those of any kid playing any video game. There’s a family of Jews waking up early in the morning to start the journey, along with a bull for the holiday sacrifice and a lamb or a goat for the Pascal sacrifice, Rabbi Israel Ariel, head of the Temple Institute, would narrate, pointing at a colored illustration up on the wall, and the children would stare, mystified, never taking their eyes from the simple images.
The audience sat through two hours of detailed discussions of precisely what must be done, when, where, how much, and all the other W’s of religious super-realism, in case, God willing, come Friday, Nissan 14, 5772, the Prophet Elijah would appear on CNN alongside the next King of Israel, and proclaim that it’s on. At that point, asked Rabbi Tzvi Idan from the podium, where does one go for a Pascal sacrifice? Never mind all the other crucial questions having to do with integrating a modern-day society with the tenets of a Biblical one.
But the scholarly stuff, although daring and amazingly well thought out, couldn’t match the visceral, irrepressible excitement that followed outside, on the grounds of the Shmuel HaNavi Matnas (the local equivalent of a JCC, but with fewer swimming pools). As soon as the teaching was over, the court yard in front of the spacious, three-story building became packed with big and small Jews, as well as a band of reporters, photographers and cameramen of both sexes – that last part raised a few grumpy comments from some organizers, but the ladies with the cameras, including the Jewish Press’ videographer Yarden Yanover, who were the model of tznius in their manner of dress – stood their ground and kept shooting.
(Although one of them, working for AFP, confessed to me that she had no idea how to sell these images to her editors. How would she create the context for them, within which they could understand why this was a thrilling, uplifting event, and not images of barbarian Jews ganging up on two innocent goats.)
The goats were sweet and wooly and tiny. The organizers had promised a “kazayis” (the size of an olive) bit of roasted goat’s flesh to each member of the crowd, but those small creatures didn’t look like they had enough meat on them for even that little. Meanwhile they stayed near the wall of the Matnas, touched and petted and groped and pushed around a bit by a million children – which I’m sure that’s how it felt from the goat’s point of view.
The crowd was so absolutely eager and relentless, it became apparent that the slaughtering of the animals just couldn’t take place over there, in the midst of all the people. It just didn’t make sense for anyone, including a skilled shochet, to be wielding a sharp instrument inside that ever-pressing, shifting, squeezing, pushing and shoving mayhem.
So, once the two animals had been inspected by a Jerusalem Municipality veterinarian—who was an Arab, to make this an even happier story—the organizers decided to shoo away the basketball players from the fenced court nearby and the thick procession was transported over there, with many hundreds now pressing their faces against the cyclone fences.
In the end, one of the goats was shechted, quickly and expertly, and its blood was collected into a special, gold vessel, and sprinklde over the base of the quickly assembled altar.
Then the animal was skinned – expertly, and the parts of its body which would have been sacrificed on the altar were paraded around the inside of all the fences, for everyone to glare at with the yearning curiosity and desire of someone who’s just come home after being away for years and years, and they’re standing outside their father’s place, there’s a light inside and joyous noises are emanating, and any minute now they would come up the stoop and push the doorbell…
It was the most exhausting assignment I’ve engaged in in some time, even though it only lasted a few hours. It was draining, emotionally and spiritually, to be struggling with my camera and tape recorder to get the shot against a sea of humanity, who so obviously wanted to become one with the goat and the knife and the sprinkled blood and the roasting fire. It was love of Heaven pushed through a meat grinder, passion for a better world jettisoned against the walls of a starved gathering.
When the real Messiah comes, I must have a couple of urgent words with him regarding crowd control.
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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