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Thursday, April 15, 2004

Aliyah L'Regel II - Behar Yeraeh

We just came back from our aliyah l'regel - trip to Israel for Pesach. (Looks like there wasn't much blogging since I left.) Lots to write about - we did a bit of touring, visited friends and family (including a hike up to Yishai and Malkah's new home on a gorgeous hilltop!), and did some research for our future aliyah. There's lots to write about, and hopefully I will get to it all, with pictures.

But first, I want to write about the focal point of our aliyah l'regel - our visit to Har Habayit on the first day of chol hamoed. I got instructions on how to prepare and where to go from the Temple Institute. I felt a connection to Avraham Avinu when I woke up at the crack of dawn to go to the mikva to prepare for ascending the same mountain where Avraham was prepared to sacrifice his son. We walked from our hotel to the ramp next to the Kotel, which leads to the Mugrabi gate on to Har Habayit. After searching our bags, the guard asked if we have ever been there before. I told him no. He told us the rules: no praying, no tearing of clothing - just walking around. I asked if we could talk. He said sure, just none of "this," as he did a little "shukle."

We proceeded up the ramp, and entered the gate. We were standing where thousands of people would have come to celebrate the holiday some two thousand years ago. Besides for the usual holiday hustle and bustle, this was also the day that the korban haomer was brought - the grain offering which permitted the use of newly grown wheat, known as "chadash." I suppose it was a good day to go - visiting the place of our future Temple on a day associated with newness.

We were unsure of exactly where to go. A police officer told us we could walk all the way around, and in fact, there is a large area (less on the east and west sides) beyond where the website above says the azara (where we can't go) could have been. Along the way, we seemed to have been followed by police officers at times, and glanced at suspiciously by Arabs at other points. We saw some Muslims heading to prayer, others lounging about; in general, the atmosphere was very chilled and relaxed. There were tractors and other construction vehicles moving about the mountain. I was reminded of the Gemara's account of the razing of Har Habayit. Maybe they were building, maybe destroying, but either way, it probably wasn't "good for the Jews."

The experience of being there was powerful, yet surprisingly mundane as well. I thought I would be overwhelmed by the experience of being in the holiest place in the world. But, as my wife pointed out, if there were thousands of Jews with animals there, it would have also been more like a social scene that a holy experience as well. But maybe that's OK - the mitzva of aliyah l'regel really doesn't call for private devotion - it's more of a call to bring everyone together to where it all began, to the center of our religious life. And of course, it has to be disconcerting to arrive at the physical center of our religion and to find yourself a stranger in what seems like someone else's house.

I feel like I'm rambling a little - just trying to get out my thoughts. So I'll stop now. But, the one lesson I took from this experience is how important it is for everyone to visit. Har Habayit is no longer the exclusive purview of the "crazies" - Jews of all types are starting to go. Many hesder yeshivas are organizing trips there. And even if you don't pray, even if it just seems like a stroll in the park (and an Arab park at that), it is vitally important that you go, and go again. It makes a strong yet subtle statement to everyone, from the police, to the government, to the Wakf, to the world, and to yourself, that this place is important to us, and we won't let go of it. Just like no one goes to Israel and doesn't go to the Kotel, no one should go to Israel and miss a visit to Har Habayit.

In my preparations for the trip, I found it very difficult to find any useful information. Several people I emailed, including the Temple Institute, didn't respond. I couldn't find any maps or instructions or summaries of laws on the web. I couldn't find anyone giving tours. The only information I found was the link above, and it is not very detailed, and it is only in Hebrew. If we are going to make visiting Har Habayit mainstream, it needs to be easier. I am going to try to put together more information on the web about it, including translating the page above. Anyone with useful information (shiurim, tours, contacts, maps, etc) should please contact me at ben at kumah dot org. I will hopefully get the beginings of a web site up before shavuot. Check back on this blog for more details.

UPDATE: Here is a slideshow from our visit to Har Habayit.


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