I love living in the Golan Heights, and I only leave if there is a very compelling reason. To spend two days away from home and family is almost unheard of. But that is what I just did, and the reason was that this year, I was convinced that Tisha B’av would be the final fast day before the reinstitution of the Temple Service. And I was not wrong.
Several months ago. My dear friend Steve Wearp, the head of Blessed Buy Israel, contacted me to tell me that he was organizing the Nations’ Ninth of Av. Steve was not pushy, but I suddenly found myself committing to joining them. As the time grew closer, I questioned that decision. The group was relatively modest, with only about 20 people, and Tisha B’Av was a difficult day for me, physically and spiritually. I do not fast well, and summertime fasts are especially difficult. And Tisha B’Av is disappointing. The fast on Yom Kippur gives me a feeling of accomplishment. My empty belly tells me that I have done teshuva (repented). But Tisha B’Av ends the same as it began, with no Temple anywhere in sight.
So my apprehension grew as the day approached. I also felt the flu coming on and was not looking forward to being sick away from home. I arrived in Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon after a four-hour bus ride, feeling battered and sore, but I immediately cheered up. The absolute best thing about my job reporting about the unfolding geula (redemption) in Israel is the people I meet along the way. I am a somewhat grumpy unexceptional person who reports on amazing people who are changing the world. So I get to hang out with people who are much nicer and much more wonderful than I am, and then I write about what they are doing and how much closer we are to seeing amazing things come into the world.
I sometimes joke that when the Messiah comes, there will be an awards ceremony for all the people who helped prepare the world for his arrival. A huge reception will be prepared, but only a few dozen people will show up. That is because there are so few people willing to step out of their comfort zone and attempt to do what everyone else says is impossible. These special people are all working triple overtime. These are the people I meet at events like the Nations Ninth of Av.
So when I showed up at the Dan Panorama Hotel feeling battered and sick, I was greeted by my friend Steve, who was also feeling ill. And I also met up with my dear friend John Enarson who was addressing the group. John heads Cry for Zion and was also feeling sick. And my friend Al McCarn from Bnei Yosef, who was in Israel for Tisha B’Av.
After dinner, we went to Gan Haatzmaut (Liberty Park) for a public reading of Lamentations. I found a group of blond children, smiling as they rolled around in the grass in rough country clothes, and followed them to the people from Hayovel. For me, Hayovel is a conduit, channeling the energy of everything that is good about middle America into the Biblical heartland of Israel, and vice versa.
At this point, I began to realize that this would be entirely unlike any of the Tisha B’avs I had observed while growing up in New Jersey. An exile Tosha B’Av means reading the Book of Lamentations in somber tones inside the synagogue while sitting on the floor. Reading it in a park in Jerusalem while children played and old folks looked on was far more uplifting and certainly more prophetic.
After reading Lamentations, we set off to walk around the walls of the Old City, giving Jerusalem a loving embrace. Yet again, my lifetime of observing Tisha B’Av was set aside. It is impossible to remain sad while walking among thousands of Jews carrying Israeli flags, even more so when we are walking alongside our beloved city walls. I was pleased to see many people carrying flags I had never seen before, calling for the Third Temple. This was a fast day, but we were singing.
However, the night was not perfect. We were only able to perform a partial circuit of the city due to threats of Arab violence. The IDF unified Jerusalem in 1967, but there are still parts of the city the Israeli government will not allow Jews to go as free men.
Politicians appeared to address the crowd. Ohad Tal from the Religious Zionist Party spoke about how the temples were destroyed due to Jews hating each other. Without explicitly mentioning anything about judicial reform, we were reminded of the painful rift in Israeli society.
Shai Rosengarten of the right-wing NGO Im Tirtzu spoke about how, as a secular Jew, Jerusalem was precious to him. In a few short sentences, he convinced me of this. After a few more sentences, I began to doubt his credentials as a secular Jew. I was reminded of the Talmudic phrase claiming that all of Israel is righteous. Last night, this seemed to be true.
Before I left, Steve made me promise to meet them at 6:30 AM to ascend to Judaism’s holiest site. It was already after midnight, and it had been a long day. There may come a day when I can say ‘no’ to Steve but last night was not it.
I was a bit shocked to see thick crowds waiting in line at the ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate. There are twelve gates leading into the Temple Mount. Muslims may use eleven of the gates and have unrestricted access. Christians and Jews may only use one. I remember having to hand over my ID card for a background check and a body search lest I be carrying a weapon or, even worse, a religious item. But these standards were lowered on Tisha B’av due to the crowds. Despite the lack of thorough security checks, progress was slow, and we baked in the sun for over an hour. There were a lot of people, Jews and Christians pressed together in sweaty crowds, wanting to represent on the Temple Mount. This gave me an opportunity to see all of my friends, the people who I admire so much for the amazing things they do. Rabbi Yehudah Glick, a larger-than-life man with King David’s red hair, was prominent among them and led us in an improvised tune proclaiming, “The time has come.”
I had intended to tour the Temple Mount with Rav Yehudah, but the police were on edge, rushing us through and preventing us from mingling with other groups. I joked with my friend that the police were concerned that we were “storming Al Aqsa to perform Talmudic rituals.” This absurd phrase is posted by the Arab media to describe Jews visiting their holiest site.
Two Members of the Knesset, Amit Halevi (Likud) and Shuli Moalem–Refaeli (Jewish Home), were in my group. I was told that Itamar Ben Gvir was just ahead, but we could not join him. I reflected on previous years when a Jewish MK who ascended to the Temple Mount was immediately labeled an “extremist carrying out an act of incitement”. When Ariel Sharon was the Likud head of the opposition, his visit to the site in 2000 was blamed for sparking the Second Intifada. Sharon’s visit passed peacefully, and the truth was that the Intifada had been brewing for several months before Sharon’s visit. But most MKs avoided the site after the incident and Prime Minister Netanyahu from Sharon’s own party banned visits to the site by politicians.
But that has changed and a visit to the Temple Mount now seems to be a photo op for MKs, giving them street creds for the growing right-wing electorate. To be fair, every politician I spoke to seemed to have a sincere personal attachment and claimed to ascend several times a year.
As we approached the steps leading to the Dome of the Rock, a contingent of police in full battle gear began chasing a Muslim woman and young man who disappeared into the Muslim shrine. Before I could find out what had happened, the police protecting my group hurried us away, refusing to explain.
As we neared the exit, a young Jewish father with two small children was confronted by the police. His long peyot (side curls), long tzitzit complete with a blue techelet thread, and faded jeans identified him as a ‘settler’. The police insisted they wanted to speak with him outside the Temple Mount, but he demanded to know what he had done. As per standard police procedure, no explanation was given. The demands to go outside became louder and were accompanied by more police who surrounded the young man, blocking him from view. Again, we were led off without an explanation.
When we exited, we encountered Dr. MJ Kronfeld arguing with a cop. I knew Dr. Kronfeld was a strong advocate for the work of the police on the Temple Mount, praising them openly and often. I was shocked at the scene. Dr. Kronfeld runs the High on the Har Temple Mount advocacy group and ascends to the Temple Mount daily, frequently making the ascent several times in one day. Dr. Kronfeld was visibly shaken. She claimed to be the victim of an unprovoked attack by a religious cop who pushed her aggressively several times (click here to read the full report of the day's events from our founder).
When I contacted her later in the day, she told me she didn’t have time to speak because she was undaunted and was on the Temple Mount for another go around.
“You think I’m going to let a cop punch me and not go back?” she told me. “I’m a citizen. I’m a Jew. And I’m a woman. He was religious, and what he did was inexcusable.”
As I wrote earlier, I am blessed to have met amazing people, such as the indomitable Dr. MJ. I am glad we are on the same side.
When I write a news article, I have a thesis in mind that guides the writing. My job is to present a single point with no distractions or contradictions. But this article did not succeed in that regard. I cannot describe my experience in Jerusalem in simple, unambiguous terms. This was my real-life experience and real life is rarely as neat and clean as a news article. I was deeply affected by my two days away from the Golan. I am still unsure of what happened and have no idea what to make of it. The Jews have returned to our heart, to Jerusalem. Being in Jerusalem, surrounded by Jews, did not feel like Tisha B’av.
There were no tears shed. Beyadenu reported that 1,800 Jews ascended to the Temple Mount in the morning, and the gate would reopen at 13:30. This is a reason to celebrate. But Beyadenu also reported that 15 Jews were detained by police for being on the Temple Mount.
I walked on the Temple Mount, but had I done any more than mumble a few words of prayer, I would have been jumped on by police and carried away. There are Israeli police which makes the situation even more painful, as Dr. MJ can attest.
I never really experienced antisemitism in New Jersey. But here in the Promised Land, I am told that I cannot even enter entire regions of the country. And if I do, I risk being murdered by a “militant”, which many people justify because I am an “occupier”. On Tisha B’av, I am told that I cannot pray on the Temple Mount because I am a Jew. Ironically, the only people praying on the Temple Mount on Tisha B’Av are Muslims.
As the geula approaches, the world will become even more muddled and confused than it is now. Old rules will be replaced by new rules. Judaism will need to return to a land-based service of God that includes the Temple Service. Many Christians will have to cope with the realization that they have not replaced the Jews in the covenant. And people who rejected God and the Bible, people who fabricated a history that erased the connection between the Jews and Jerusalem, will be faced with the undeniable reality that they were wrong.
It is forbidden to listen to music on Tisha B’Av, but I am listening to Matisyahu sing “One Day” while I write this. It is a sweet song that could easily be my Ninth of Av prayer. But I am impatient. Jews have waited for 2,000 years, but even with Matisyahu singing in my ear, I don’t have the strength for one more Ninth of Av. Next year, when Steve calls, I will decline. Next year on Tisha B’Av, I am going to grill some meat. If you understand my message and know where I will be setting up my grill, then you are invited to join me.
Click here to read the article online.