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TIMES OF ISRAEL OPED | Ascending from slavery: Why I fight for the Temple Mount

My heart sunk when I woke up Friday morning to the news of riots on the Temple Mount. Flipping through an endless barrage of cell phone videos flooding the many WhatsApp and Telegram news groups I subscribe to, scrolling through reports on social media from those who witnessed the destruction – and those who proudly posted their participation in it – and speaking to the men and women on the front lines, serving in and around the Old City of Jerusalem, it was apparent to me that the situation was as bad as it could be, perhaps even worse than I could comprehend from afar.

On any given week I will make as few as four, and as many as nine aliyot, or ascensions, to The Temple Mount. It is here I walk proudly but cautiously. It is here that I attend minyan for Shacharit and Mincha, and I pray quietly but with intention.

I discuss Torah, Talmud, Mishna and obscure Halakha with my Rebbe, or listen to the shiur given by the Rabanim from Yeshivat Har HaBayit.

I engage in hisbodedus with Hashem, and in conversation with those making their first ascension, pointing out the interesting archeological, historical, and religious tidbits I have been privileged to learn during the two years I have made weekly, very early morning, trips from my home in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to participate in the process of normalizing our presence, a Jewish presence, on the Temple Mount.

I take the time to say hello to the Israel Police Officers who regularly ensure our security, many I now consider friends, inquiring about their families and their children.

I am surrounded by the many friends I have made here, a community of believers who regularly ascend with me. I talk with their families and play with their children. We celebrate the Bar or Bat Mitzvah ascending with his or her parents, as well as the grooms and brides preparing for their weddings later that day. We celebrate births and brit milah, we strengthen the sick and weary amongst us and far from us, we mourn the fallen – those we knew and those we did not.

But always, we bask in the bright sunshine of the mountain top, which seemingly never hesitates to peak out from behind the darkest of dawns, or most dreary of days, the moment we step onto this hallowed ground.

What I, and the hundreds of Jews who regularly ascend to Har HaBayit, do not do is riot. We do not throw rocks and smash centuries-old marble pillars. We do not break windows, pound on doors, nor build bunkers and barriers from which to launch fireworks and other lethal projectiles.

We do not throw our holy books, because we are not permitted to bring any with us when we ascend. We do not hide our faces or obscure our identities under our tallit, like the Arabs rioters who obscure their identities under their keffiyeh, because we are not permitted to wear them when we ascend.

We do not hang Hamas flags from the intricate, ancient arches, nor do we even carry Israeli flags, because that would be reason enough for a Jew to be detained and potentially banned from ascending for days, weeks, and sometimes months, at a time.

We do not “storm” the Temple Mount, as our enemies will have you believe, nor do we “occupy” this place, as they also claim. How can we, when Jews are only permitted on Har HaBayit five days a week, five hours a day, for just an hour at a time? Hours which have been drastically reduced since the start of Ramadan, to a mere three or four at most, and which are often diminished further due to security concerns, infringing on the already limited time Jews are allotted access.

We do not shout or scream, nor do we declare death to anyone, let alone the Muslims worshippers with whom we share our mountain. Because this is a Holy, sacred place, consecrated for all time. It is the site where twice our Temple stood, and where it most certainly, one day, will again.

We need not be reminded that Passover is a time to celebrate our freedom – freedom from slavery, from exile; to celebrate our freedom to build a Jewish family, a Jewish life, a Jewish state in this Jewish land. But to celebrate our freedom, when the Temple Mount is held captive by rioters, criminals, provocateurs, and terrorists – aided and abetted by the Israeli government which refuses to demand from them what they demand of us – feels imprudent, almost perverse.

On January 6, 1941 President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered the most important, defining, and critical speeches in American, if not human, history. Europe was engulfed in war. Jews were engulfed by the flames of Nazi ovens. And it seemed as if the end of days was quickly encroaching. Yet despite the haze of human smoke haphazardly obscuring our vision, FDR saw clearly a vision of what the future could be, and what humanity must demand it should be.

“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms,” Roosevelt began.

“The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.

“The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.