Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tear Gas At The Kotel

The Temple Mount is in our hands. That announcement shook the world during The Six Day War. As a young teenager I did not really understand the significance of the declaration. I do remember, though, about a month later being at my cousin’s house when she received a remarkable phone call. This call came from one of her teachers, a devout Christian. He wanted to know how he could contribute to the rebuilding of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. At that time neither of us had any idea what he was talking about.

He was referring, of course, to the Third Holy Temple that will be rebuilt in the Messianic Era. This teacher thought that since Israel had liberated the Old City of Jerusalem and with it the site of the Holy Temple there was no reason that it could not be rebuilt. There was one detail he had overlooked, however. The Dome of the Rock, a holy site to the Moslems, had been built on the same spot some 1200 years earlier. To rebuild the Holy Temple it would have to be dismantled.

Not only did the Israeli government refrain from doing so; it also relinquished the management of the Temple Mount to the waqf, an Islamic, religious committee. Israel kept control of the Kotel, the only remaining wall of the Holy Temple, which stands beneath the Temple Mount. Jews flocked to the Kotel. Moslems continued going to the Temple Mount. Foreign tourists were able to visit both but they, and all non-Moslems, were forbidden to pray on the Temple Mount. That was the status quo when we first moved to Israel in 1986.

It is a commandment in the Torah (Deuteronomy, Chapter 16, verse 16) three times a year every male should appear before HaShem, your G-d, in the place He will choose, on the holiday of Pesach, the holiday of Shavuot, and the holiday of Sukkot. At one time the place HaShem chose was Shilo. Later, when the first Holy Temple was built, it became Jerusalem. Until this day it is the practice of many Jews to go up to the Kotel on the intermediate days of both Pesach and Sukkot. Even though I do not like crowds I found it exhilarating to be able to join the throng of Jews of every shape, size, and origin flocking through the Old City of Jerusalem dressed in their holiday finery. Once living in Israel a visit to the Kotel became an integral part of our holiday plans.

Our second Sukkot in the country was not so positive, though. We ran into a security problem which was both upsetting and eye-opening to us as new immigrants. An edited excerpt from my journal entry from November 2, 1987 explains what happened.

Sunday morning we went to the Kotel with all of our children, the baby in the backpack, the four and six-year-olds holding our hands, and the eight and ten-year-olds running along beside us, excited to be going to the Kotel for Sukkot. But it didn’t turn out as expected. The TV and radios were on strike, not that we would have listened to the news that morning. Still, we sensed trouble when we first entered the Kotel plaza and our bags were scrutinized well at the security point. But this was the Kotel, our Kotel, and we were not worried. My husband and oldest son went to the Kotel to pray and the rest of us stayed in one of the special Sukkot at the back of the plaza set up by the city, and ate the picnic breakfast we had brought with us. We hadn’t been there long when I heard something that sounded like gunshots. I was apprehensive but no one else seemed excited so in time I calmed down. My main concern was getting separated from my husband and son if there was trouble. After a long time they finished their prayers and returned to us.

My husband told me that the popping sound I had heard was tear gas canisters on the Temple Mount. Our earlier suspicion of trouble had indeed been correct. The day before an Israeli had been stabbed in the Arab market and last night a policeman was shot. Now the Arabs were rioting. Some of the tear gas had wafted down to the worshippers at the Kotel but it hadn’t been too bad.

We were such innocents thinking that we were safe at our Kotel! I took a turn to go pray, a short, five-minute mother’s version and returned to my family who were waiting for me at the back of the plaza. As I returned I saw policemen leading arrested Arabs to the paddy wagon there. There were a lot of frightening emotions floating around: hate fear, anger, and resentment. I did not want my family anywhere near there. I wanted to yell at them to move away from the policemen but my allergies began bothering me. As I reached for my tissues I suddenly realized that it wasn’t allergies, but tear gas.

Panic broke loose. Someone yelled to my husband to get out of there with the baby. I began shrieking at my children to come to me. I was so frightened, sure that one of them would get lost or trampled. The children were crying and one soldier grabbed the four-year-old in one arm and the six-year-old in the other and began running with them. Everyone was fleeing to the stairs to the Jewish Quarter, away from the tear gas.

As we climbed the stairs we began to calm down somewhat. Our oldest son took his brothers from the soldier. One man handed out candies to the children. I thought he was trying to be nice but my kids told me it helped the burning in their throats. A yeshiva student had bags of milk and was pouring milk into people’s hands so they could bathe their eyes. We waited to get to the water fountain.

I could not stop crying. I was angry. I was sad. And I felt guilty. We should have left the Kotel as soon as we sensed trouble but we didn’t believe anything could happen at our Kotel. I was sad and angry that anything had. I haven’t been back to the Kotel yet. This was three weeks ago. I must go soon. We all must go. We cannot let this memory mar the beauty of the Kotel.     

According to my journal we did go back a month later and had a pleasant, peaceful experience. A month after that, though, the First Intifada began. Despite that, we never stopped going to the Kotel and now I am privileged to go their almost every week. Every time I go, I pray that the time will we come when we will no longer need to be satisfied with our one remaining wall from the Holy Temple; rather that the Third Temple will be peacefully rebuilt. And then as it is written by the prophet (Isaiah Chapter 56, verse 7) I will bring them to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My House of Prayer, their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on My Alter; for My House shall be called a House of Prayer for all people.    

May it happen speedily in our times.






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