Thursday, August 7, 2008

Holy Site Surprise

Last week I returned to Jerusalem for one last visit before I leave Israel. My family and I took a tour of the tunnels that lie under the Western Wall. During this fascinating tour, the guide explained how the retaining walls of the Temple Mount were built (all of the building that took place under Herod’s reign here is so impressive that I have to keep reminding myself that according to my Christian upbringing that “respect” is not something I’m supposed to be feeling toward Herod), how they withstood Roman attempts to demolish them during the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and why the Western Wall is holy to Jews.

I did not know this would happen before I took the tour, but the tour passed by the “holy of holies,” the part of the wall that is believed to be the inner sanctum of the Second Temple and is the most sacred site in Judaism. The tour guide stopped the tour for a moment so that participants could take a moment to pray there if they so wished. And what do you know? In contrast to the Western Wall, access to the holy of holies is not segregated! It is accessible to everyone equally -- no separate sections for men and women! Everyone who comes can be present to pray to or think about God -- together!

My family and I jumped at the chance. All together, we put our heads against the Wall. The boys put their hands on the Wall; my husband and I put our hands on the boys. We enjoyed a peaceful moment together, as a family. After the frustration of being separated from my family during our earlier visit to the Wall (see “Up Against the Wall,” July 11 post) this visit, which took place with the three people who matter most to me, was meaningful. My eyes filled. When we turned away from the Wall, a few tears spilled onto my cheeks. As I wiped them away, some people looked at me, perhaps assuming that visiting the “holiest of holies” was so important to me that it moved me to tears. (Funny, I could almost hear them think, she doesn’t look Jewish). But of course what really mattered was that I was finally able to experience the Western Wall with my family.

Afterward I was so content that I could almost forgive the orthodox rabbis for segregating women and men at the Wall. I could almost forget that they give men at least twice the space at the Wall that they allocate to women. I could almost absolve them of giving the men wide wooden desks near the wall at which to spread out and study Torah, while the women get narrow little desks that provide barely enough space on which to spread a cheap paperback novel. I could do all this -- almost.

As long as my holy site ship appeared to be in, I made one last attempt to visit the Dome of the Rock. Over the course of the summer, I’ve tried every possible way to get in: persuasion, money, connections. None if it worked. The guard at the door last week barely even looked at us non-Muslims begging for entry. “After seven years?” he asked rhetorically. “Not now.”

1 comment:

GreenishLady said...

I came by through a link to your previous post (I am a Baha'i), and I found this so moving - your description of your family being able to pray together at this holy place and what that meant to you.

Others have offered comments on your experience of the Baha'i gardens. I have only ever been there once (in 1991), and yes, those gardens were beautifully maintained even then, and I understand they are far more striking now. They surround what is our holiest place. I like natural gardens too, so I know what you mean about the perfection being unsettling. I'll be reading over your previous posts now. Thanks for sharing your visit to Israel with us.