“The Temple shall be rebuilt—the city of Zion shall be filled…”
As we waited to ascend to the mount where the Temple once stood two millennia ago, we heard these joyous words sung in Hebrew, and we found ourselves singing right along with our fellow Jews.
We were standing on the rickety wooden bridge that rises over the Kotel (Western Wall) leading to the Temple Mount, enjoying the exuberance, and bracing ourselves as the bridge shook from all the jumping and bouncing of the excited, pious worshipers.
We were waiting to be allowed onto the Temple Mount. We stood in the middle of the bridge, watching longingly as the Chinese, French, Russian, and American tourists walked right by us up to the site to which we so longed to go. No one stopped them; no one told them not to pray, not to speak, not to do anything. They were free to go and do as they pleased. But we Jews, we needed just to wait. And wait. And wait.
We were waiting for enough security guards and police officers to escort us around the Temple Mount site. We were waiting for the previous Jewish group that went before us to be done. Only a certain number of Jews are allowed on the mount at a time: approximately thirty-five. So we stood and waited. It has never been safe for Jews to go to the Temple Mount, but because of recent events where Arab radicals shot two Israeli police officers, there was just a tiny bit more leniency for us Jews.
Nevertheless, they still told us not to pray. We could not bring our prayer books. We should keep moving and not stop and stare for too long. We were not to talk very much. And so on. We went through the metal detectors that have been of such high contention these last few days. We! Jews! We were just going to pray, not to hurt anyone. We could barely even do that.
As we walked around the Dome of the Rock shrine, the place where the Holy Temple once stood, we were struck by the beauty of the current structure yet saddened by the abomination it represented. It reminded us we are still in partial exile, even though we live in the land of Israel. It reminded us that this world is still in need of great redemption and that peace is still a ways away.
As we stood marveling at the Muslim structure, trying to picture the Temple in all its grandeur in the shrine’s place, a Jew who thought he was brave and making a bold statement stood up and started reciting the Kaddish loudly. He would not stop, so the police had to grab him, stuff a rag in his mouth, and swiftly take him off the Temple Mount. We all yelled at him and each other, pleading to keep the peace, realizing that we cannot pray here, we cannot say words of praise to HaShem in this location. It was forbidden. Not just that—it was dangerous!
The police pleaded with us in Hebrew: “Guys, please please keep the peace. It is not only your safety at risk but ours as well!” They were thinking of their comrades who fell just days earlier from an Arab attack on the Temple Mount. The police were pleading for us to guard their own safety, just as they stood there with their guns to guard ours. Tourists from many nations continued to walk by us with no problems, no restrictions, able to take as many pictures as they wanted for as long as they wanted. But we were herded like sheep, guarded like prisoners, and advised that our slightest words or simple careless actions could affect the fate of so many other lives.
We continued bickering with each other in Hebrew, but we were united. Yes, we wanted to pray, more than anything! Even as we were yelling at the rabble rousing Jew to keep quiet we still could not help but answer “Amen” to every line of the Kaddish he was able to say. But we also knew that HaShem could hear our hearts. He didn’t have to hear our words. We saw the pleading in the eyes of the soldiers, and we knew their lives were so much more precious than the beautiful ceremonial vocal recitation. Together we spoke of the desire to pray freely, as Jews, on the Temple Mount with no one to guard us. Until then, we will guard the lives of these brave policemen, and we will guard the peace of our country. Even at injury to our own yearning Jewish hearts.
I stood there amidst the commotion, both frustrated and in awe. Ultra-religious and semi-religious, men and women, were together as Am Yisrael (the People of Israel), rejoicing, mourning, commiserating, and complaining together like family members.
As we left the Temple Mount and walked through the Arab Quarter of the Old City, I spotted graffiti of the Dome of the Rock on the wall. I took comfort in the fact that one day that structure—as gorgeous, magnificent, and ornate as it is—will be replaced by HaShem’s House.
We await the rebuilding of the Temple, for the Messiah to come and reign, sitting on its throne, and for all nations—especially the Jewish nation!—to be able to come and worship HaShem explicitly together in unity. The Temple shall be rebuilt—the city of Zion shall be filled, and there shall we sing a new song.