May 1, 2014

‘Too Jewish’ to Pray on the Temple Mount

Jews are watched by guards on the Temple Mount, to make sure they don't pray.
Jews are watched by guards on the Temple Mount, to make sure they don't pray.
Photo Credit: Lucie March/Flash 90
I know it is not hard news, but it happened to me just yesterday.

I  carefully thought out my preparations for the experience I was planning for my tourists on the Temple Mount.

I went  to the Mikva (ritual immersion) early that morning, and made sure to wear non-leather shoes as Halacha (Jewish law) instructs.

Then I prepared my back pack and  the contents of my pockets making sure there was nothing  that could incriminate me at the security check before entering the site.  My tzitzit were well tucked into my pants. I wore  a hat and hid my kippa in a secret compartment (I can't disclose where - who knows who might be reading this  article?)

As we approached the security check I was confident that I would pass by as easily as if I were like the non-Jewish visitors. I recognized Motti, the Israeli police officer who has won a reputation for his keen sense of smell. He can detect a Jew a mile away.

He looked me over and I thought I passed. But I was discovered.  All my fault. I forgot an obvious thing! I totally had forgotten about the small prayer, composed by the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, on behalf of Jonathan Pollard. I was caught red handed! He demanded to know if I knew what this is! I said "yes, a prayer for our brother Jonathan Pollard." He frowned and declared that it is forbidden material and was being confiscated. I could pick it up later. I was warned not to pray or make any trouble.

I asked myself how these Jews could allow themselves to be used as kapos - in the  very heart of  what is most holy to our people. How do they sleep at night? What do they tell their families when they come home from another day's work ?

How shamed and shocked I felt, as the long line of visitors filed by.

I was being questioned and threatened by Motti and was wondering if they realized that I just did not succeed in passing for one of  them!

Fifteen minutes later I was allowed to join my rather shaken tourists on the Mount. But the best was yet to come.

As we proceeded, I heard a chanting din coming from another part of the mountain. It sounded much like the chanting of Arab rioters that I have heard so often in the media.

Coming towards me was an elderly bearded man dressed in classic ultra-Orthodox attire. He was accompanied by a few young boys. They were not trying to hide their Jewish appearance, but they had the distinct look of fear in their eyes after running the gauntlet of threats and taunts by an Arab crowd moments before.

I greeted him warmly and he responded  as one greeting a stranger on a desert island. He  and his little group were shadowed by two policemen making sure my new friends did not move their lips in prayer and thus arouse the sensibilities and ire of the Arabs. (I wondered how the Arab boys playing soccer on the holy site did not upset their sensibilities.) Our meeting was immediately reported by the nervous police escort as the walkie-talkies came alive.

After we parted and proceeded alone, I realized that we were being watched not only by the police, but by a large group of Arab youths who had marked us by our association with the bearded Jew.

It was now our turn. They dogged us with chants of "Allah hu Akbar"! ( God is Great ) The yelling of their God's name spurred them on to increasing taunts and threats and bumping us.

The police were not there to stop this. Of course, they were not praying to the God of Israel.

Once cleared of this threat, we proceeded alone. I was suddenly ashamed of myself. The elderly Jewish man and children did not try to hide their identity or fool Motti at the gate. They underwent the humiliations as Jews not hiding in the shadows of a false identity - certainly not in Jerusalem, not on the holiest site in the world!

I removed my hat  and placed my kippa on my head. I let my tzizit out to fly like a Jewish flag.

The response was not  long in coming. It was so interesting to watch the reaction of the Arab men, women and small children. The hate in their eyes. The curses on their lips and the spit out of their mouths.

My tourists were not Jewish. After this experience they said they were so very pleased to stand with the Jewish people in this clearest of choices to be made. They felt they had the opportunity to stand with good vs. evil on this day.

No, this was not  a news worthy item any more, but for me and my tourists it was an unforgettable one.

About the Author: Shalom Pollack is a writer and tour guide in Israel.

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