15 July 2010

" 9 Av 5759 "

I wrote the following in 1999...

Trepidation filled my heart as I gazed around what is known today as the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. My family and I were trying hard not to breathe too deeply of the aromatic smells emanating from the garbage close to where we were sitting on the cold stone floor inside the Gate called Shalshelet. In this forlorn and forbidding place about forty devout Jews had gathered to read Eicha, the book of Lamentations, in an environment conducive to mourning the destruction of the Holy Temple.

The Ninth of Av is the Hebrew date on which both Jewish Temples were destroyed. Thereafter, for millennia, the Jews have fasted and prayed on that date, mourning the loss. The timeless rituals include reading a description of the first destruction as penned by the prophet Jeremiah.

Israeli Border Police stood guard while Arabs from the surrounding area gathered. A radio was turned on at full volume somewhere overhead and those in the women's area could no longer hear the words being chanted from the scroll. To the religious Jew, the loss of Jewish sovereignty over Judaism's holiest site---the Temple Mount---was a devastating event. In this place and particularly at this time the loss was palpable.

Suddenly, as the fury of mixed voices began to rise, the deafening clang of metal rang out and echoed off the walls and we scrambled to our feet, gathering up the children. Sounds of anger mingled with that of scuffling feet. I could just see the policemen with clubs drawn threateningly over their heads. It was impossible to tell if their anger was directed at the Jews or Arabs or both. In the Old City of Jerusalem, the police consider any religiously motivated group to be extremists and troublemakers.

We were being pressed tighter and tighter together when an opening appeared in the fenced off area. We began to be herded in that direction. I felt an ominous chill as from distantly remembered herdings of Jews. The authorities said we needed to be evacuated to a place of safety for our own protection, so we flowed as one in the only direction we could move---into the Mahkame Headquarters of the border police.

I watched the great iron doors shut with a deep resonant finality. When the bolt slid into place it didn't lock out the din of the mob shouting just outside. At first people wandered aimlessly in the large hall, lost in a depth of feeling none of us could have anticipated. The goal of attaining a true sense of loss in our mourning rites had been achieved beyond expectation. As a small group gathered to complete the reading of Eicha, others stood aside to pray and some, like me, took themselves into small corners to try to come to terms with what had happened.

Curiosity led me to one of the tall barred windows which stood on a far wall. Until this moment, I had not really understood exactly where we were, so imagine my astonishment to find myself looking down into the Western Wall Plaza. The window was very high up on the northern wall of the prayer area. As I stood gazing into the sea of Jewish humanity that swelled below, contemplation seized me and carried me back.... into the past ....

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