Thursday, April 11, 2013

While in Israel...

If you had been with me     Years ago, during my first trip to Israel, I was offered a ‘deal’ that may have been sincere…then. For a bargain price of $150, a personal escort, a former IDF intelligence officer, would take me to the Temple Mount. Perhaps because I misunderstood where we were to rendezvous, I never saw the man, never made it there. (please see: The Temple Mount in Jerusalem  The Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Where were the First and Second Jewish Temples Located? -)

“Yesterday, we went to the Temple Mount,” said a Mormon visitor at the Allenby B ‘n B. It was breakfast and most, like me, who’d rented rooms there, sat at one long table. I listened carefully; it had cost them nothing to go to the Mount. “Go in the morning at 7:30. Lines are short and you’ll get in easily.”

That afternoon, I walked to the Old City, confirmed the information in addition to gathering printouts about times and conditions. When I was told that the entrance was near the Women’s section of the Western Wall, I asked for and received a map to the Kotel. I remembered that getting to the Kotel (the Western Wall) on my last visit had been tricky, too tricky.

With that map and the other information, I knew I would easily reach the Temple Mount, site of the First and Second Jewish Temples; both had been destroyed, on the same day although more than six hundred years had passed since the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E.

In 692 C.E., the Muslim’s Dome of the Rock was completed. Some believe it to have been built on or near the foundations of the destroyed Jewish Temples. Indeed, so holy is the site to many orthodox Jews that going near that area is seen as dangerous and is generally forbidden. When I made my plans known, such warnings were shared by loved ones who feared harm might come to me when I ventured there.

Mindful of that, I found the Kotel, went through a check point where my camera and hand held light meter were closely examined, and crossed the marble floor of the grounds of the Western Wall. To my left were men actively praying. To their right were women, in their own section. To the right of them, about 120’ from the Wall, I was ushered through another checkpoint. From there, I was instructed to join a line of about forty people. Behind me were German tourists; in front, Americans.

To my right were two signs that explained conditions of entry; I photographed both. One stipulated that no religious symbols nor jewelry (e.g., crosses or Star of David necklaces) would be tolerated. Although I’d chafed at hearing that the day before from the Mormons at the Allenby, I wasn’t concerned by it that morning. Actually, I’d found a way to take a Jewish star with me to the Mount!

Before leaving that morning, I drew a Star of David underneath the back of my shirt collar, a yellow polo I would wear all that day. Apparently, no one noticed. When the gate eventually opened at about 7:40 a.m., I marched in.

What I saw surprised me. Although the original area had been about 250 meters square, the Mount was expanded by the Hasmonean dynasty to a much larger size. (please see: Temple Mount - העיר העתיקה ירושלים The present Temple Mount area is the result of King ... the Hasmonean dynasty apparently did a significant amount of renovation and expansion of the Temple Mount. ...

Most of the site was paved with stones similar to those leading to the Kotel. Like a quiet plaza with well-placed raised marble boxes for what appeared to be very old trees, the area was almost serene; groups of people sat in circles, seeming to study or converse. Smaller groups sat in folding chairs. Men and women were there. Two women, dressed in niquabs sat on a concrete stoop away from all of the others. I maneuvered close enough to see that one was reading from the Koran to the other.

By shooting pictures near the perimeter of the Mount, I was able to get a more inclusive perspective. When finished, I decided not to exit at what seemed the stairs to the back wall of the Old City; I knew that was deep in the Muslim sector.

Instead, I retraced my steps that led to the Jaffa Gate. Very near there was a stairway, one that intrigued me. It led to the Ramparts at the top of the walls; I wanted that vista. Curiosity had led me to ask about it the day before. Hurriedly, I climbed to the top; there I saw a sign that instructed me to buy tickets at the Visitors Center fifty feet from there. It was 8:30 a.m. (please see: The Ramparts Walk: Climb the Walls of Jerusalem  The ramparts walk allows you to walk along the walls of Jerusalem, getting a bird's eye view of both the Old City and modern Jerusalem. -)

That office didn’t open until nine. I couldn’t wait until then because I’d promised to meet my daughter at another location.

When I saw her, I mentioned the Ramparts. “Would you like to go?” I asked.

She loved the idea.

Buying tickets was a cinch. We climbed and were rewarded with a view of Jerusalem on one side and the Old City on the other that neither of us had ever expected to see. For hours, we traversed the Ramparts’ narrow stone walkway as it wound up and down windows and gates in the Old City’s walls. A few times, we saw people sitting in small backyards; patios and compact courtyards connected to the Wall. Basketball courts belonging to churches were unexpected, but empty.

At the end of our trek, halfway around the Old City, we saw another couple. Like us, they hadn’t known that the trail would come to an end at a midpoint before it reached the western corner. All of us had to exit.

That’s when I saw the stairs that led to the Temple Mount, the ones I had chosen not to exit from earlier. Seated at the bottom of the stairs were two Israeli police officers. As I walked toward them, a few young neighborhood boys hissed at me that the area was closed.

I didn’t answer them; instead, I moved closer to the policemen and asked for directions to the Kotel. It would have been easy to climb the stairs, enter the Temple Mount, and take the stairs at the other end of the Mount. But, although Muslims and Muslim tourists could cross at any time into the Christian and Jewish sectors, crossing the Mount was only allowed at specific times to non-Muslims.

The next time would be tomorrow. By then I would be gone, too late to see the Mount from the Ramparts of the Western Wall.

                                                   B.Koplen 4/11/13

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