Following is the experience of an American rabbi who went with his wife to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem this week, thinking it would be the exciting Zionist experience it once was decades ago.
It was indeed “exciting” but not quite in the way he expected.
“My wife and I almost earned a spot in the news today. Or at least on a police blotter. And I was mostly innocent.
“Since the 1960s when my family and I freely and unafraid explored all of the Muslim holy sites on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, I have wanted to revisit it,” he told JewishPress.com in an exclusive interview. With the recent excitement about who controls the area, my wife and I decided that this time we would have to include it.
“We arrived on time for visiting hours at the end of a long queue of people anxious to climb the long ramp from the plaza level of the Kotel to the Temple Mount. We saw people from every nook and cranny of the world and enjoyed listening to all of their languages as we waited for the gate at the front to open. Naturally, security is very tight,” he acknowledged.
“After roughly 100 others had filed through we brought up the rear. My wife placed her purse on the table and walked through the metal detector to the other side without arousing as much as a blink from the police. I emptied my pockets, set my cell phone and pen on the table and the guards motioned for me to remove my hat.”
That’s when the “excitement” began.
“A gasp and hurried instructions to one another were immediate, and they demanded our passports. There, to the apparent shock of every guard, perched on my head was a kippah. The chief of the micro police force receded into a small office, emerging about five minutes later still holding the passports and glaring at me. Obviously I was a troublemaker.”
The police chief was clearly irritable, according to the rabbi, who said he was told to “calm down” when he asked him whether they should leave or whether his wife could go up on her own.
“Do you want to go to jail?” the burly police chief reportedly rasped. About 20 minutes later, after a few more office retreats and whispered conversations with the other guards, the officer strode over to the rabbi.
“Where is your Kippah?” he demanded to know. By then the rabbi had removed it; he showed him that he had placed it in a carry bag. “I was willing to suffice with the hat to avoid looking Jewish; I shared with him my business card identifying me as a rabbi, to further assure him that I was aware of the delicate situation and would act responsibly.”
That was clearly a mistake: the police chief now appeared to be convinced the rabbi was intending to do “something religious” up on the Temple Mount, the rabbi said. “He retreated once again into his office, ostensibly to check with “the office” to determine if I was previously known to the police as an agitator.
“With only a few minutes left in the one hour allotment, he finally reemerged, handed back my business card, and told me to put on my kippah. ‘Come, go up,’ he groused at me. My wife and I began the trek up the ramp, a bit surprised but glad nevertheless. A young haredi-religious guard – kippah, tzitzit, long peyyot and unarmed – joined us. Halfway up we were greeted and flanked by two heavily armed policemen.
“At the top of the ramp, as we approached the holy ground, several more police surrounded us in a very tight circle. In this formation we begin a slow march onto the grounds.
Hana Levi Julian