Monday, 2 May 2016

Hatikvah – A hope for freedom


“Liheyot Am Chofshi Beartzeinu, Eretz Tzion V’rushalayim.” (To be a free People in our Land, the Land of Tzion and Yerushalayim). Naftali Hertz Imber , Hatikvah

This week, I visited, along with a group of fellow teachers, our Temple Mount in Yerushalayim. I had been looking forward to that visit. Spiritually, I have always been of the conviction that if Am Yisrael and the Jewish People had a soul, that is the place where it dwelt. The famous call “Har Habayit Beyadeinu,” (The Temple mount is in our hands) which was uttered during the Six Day War echoed against the walls of my Jewish essence. Zion, I realized then, was the center of our Jewish universe.

Politically, however, I had never given much thought or much significance to the place. Of course I knew that Yisrael relinquished any rights to the place and handed it over to the Hashemite Kingdom for keeps while allowing the Jewish People, the rightful owners of the place, visitation rights. Frankly, I had no issue with that decision. It was Moshe Dagan, my co-writer, who has opened my eyes for the need to look at the importance of the Temple Mount also from the governmental and administrative angle. It was these two perspectives that set out to tour the place.

That visit occurred one week before Pesach, the Jewish holiday of Passover, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, from Slavery into Freedom. Ironically enough what I experienced there taught me a great lesson; a twofold lesson. The first, what it means to be a “slave. A humiliated slave.” The other, I learned to appreciate the great precious and priceless gift of Freedom.

“Remove any religious symbols from yourself before we visit Temple Mount, and cause no provocation,” our tour guide kept warning us, starting the day prior to the visit and resuming a few more times before the visit. That meant I had to remove my treasured Star of David necklace which was given to me by my daughter. My Jewish core rebelled. “Why does one have to hide their Jewish identity and in Eretz Yisrael of all places?” it kept asking me. I was not going to remove mine. “Tucking it inside my shirt,“ I decided, “should suffice.”
“You also need to dress modestly, ladies,” our guide continued to instruct us.  That, however, I could understand. Respect is what I would show any religious site because that is what I was raised to do. I had no intention of disobeying that request. Neither had any of my fellow teachers.

On the scheduled day, we rose early for fear that we might be late and therefore miss the visit. During the security check and, probably more importantly, a check for any hidden religious items, the guards found a little Book of Psalms in my purse. It was nothing more than a good luck charm that I carry along with me wherever I go. The book and I were temporarily separated, to be reunited after the visit. I did not challenge the act and moved on.
Along with all other non- Muslim tourists of many nationalities we ascended the Moograbim Gate, making our way to the Heart of our people, the place where Jews have longed to return for over a few millennia. Many of us were a bit nervous for fear of making any move that might be interpreted as provocative or disrespectful

We finally reached planet Temple Mount.

The Waqf representative who awaited us at the entrance to the site was anything but polite. I seriously felt like I was entering a forced labor camp. “Why don’t you cover your boobs?” He shouted at one of my fellow teachers who was, in my view, dressed very modestly. “Don’t you realize that this is a holy place?” he kept reproofing her. At that point I was sincerely searching for the whip that he might be holding in his hand.

No, it was not a pleasant atmosphere for us.

As we were making our way around the site with our very knowledgeable and careful tour guide, we were constantly followed by a representative of the Waqf listening in to what was said. At one point, the guard went aside to make a telephone call. Our tour guide seemed terrified for fear that he must have said something wrong.
More of that gnawing unfriendly and unwelcome feeling.

That day was an especially hot day. The hot sun was hitting us mercilessly. The only shade in whose comforting shelter we could find temporary respite was the one cast by the Golden dome building. Some of us approached it only to be chastised by the guards who told us that we were not allowed to get close to the place.

At that point I was already looking forward to leaving the place. I no longer felt free in my Home, the Home of my People and the dwelling place of its soul. I was crying for my People’s soul. It was trapped underneath a golden dome unable to free itself, its wings broken, its limbs shackled to a different planet, unable to share the joy of Freedom, of reunification and rededication between a Nation and its Historical, Religious and Political essence. There was no Freedom on the Mount. After all, the words of Hatikvah, above, did not say "Eretz Yisrael". They specifically refer to “The Land of Tzion and Yerushalayim?” To me, Temple Mount has been the embodiment of Eretz Tzion V’irushalayim.

This Pesach has, therefore, added yet another meaning, another significance to my Jewish existence. I have had a brief encounter with Jewish history and its sad chapters. This year, more than before, the words of Hatikvah will continue to resonate with me, as I still harbor the Hope that we will one day be reunited in Freedom and Bliss with what was ours and forever will be.

May we all have a Happy and Meaningful Pesach.

This article was written together with Moshe Dagan.

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