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Who Cares About Har Habayit?
by Judy Lash Balint
September 5, 2002

Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem--It's been almost three years since the last demonstration on behalf of Jewish rights to Har Habayit (The Temple Mount). In December 1999 some 5,000 people came to a well-organized protest against Moslem destruction of the holy site. Truckloads of fragments from the First and Second Temple were then being unceremoniously dumped in the Kidron Valley as Arab construction of a mosque in the Solomon's Stables area at the southeast corner of the mount proceeded sans archaeological oversight or Israeli supervision.

Last night, a much smaller band of 1,000 souls congregated at the same spot on Mt. Scopus, overlooking the Temple Mount, to call on Prime Minister Sharon to order the holy site reopened to all non-Muslims. Under the banner "A Return to the Mount: A Return to the Heart," the Council of Jewish Settlements in Judea, Smaria and Gaza marked two years according to the Jewish calendar since Arik Sharon's visit to the site.

On my way to the rally on the hilltop just below Hebrew University, I realize that it's the first time I've been on the campus since the terror bomb attack there just over one month ago. Looking up toward the faculty club I notice workers setting up a white chupa (wedding canopy) on the balcony--overlooking the very place every Jewish bridegroom commemorates as he breaks the glass to remember the destruction of the Temple.

At the rally site Israeli flags flutter in the cool Jerusalem night air. A mechitza separates men and women, since evening prayers will lead off the event. A few TV cameras and print reporters show up at 7 p.m., the designated starting time, but the buses bringing participants from various communities around the country don't arrive until an hour later.

Meantime, a few of the right wing fixtures show up. There's Gershom Solomon of the Temple Mount Faithful, fresh from his court appearance where he petitioned the High Court to allow his organization to visit the Temple Mount during the Yomin Noraim, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Yisrael Medad, long time Temple Mount activist and "settler" spokesman is there. Era Rappaport, veteran tour guide and member of the old machteret (underground) appears with a group of followers. Bracha Slae, activist with Ateret Cohanim in the Old City, and one of the prime movers behind efforts to revitalize worship at the Kotel Hakatan is one of the few present who actually take the time to look over at the site below our eyes. The ubiquitous Kach activist, Itamar Ben Gvir, ambles in to the enclosed rally space closely shadowed by a chubby, black hatted and bearded breathless young hanger-on hauling an armful of Kach literature.

Off to one side, two ice cream vans are parked, generators grinding. There's even a cotton candy machine working overtime to stoke the young demonstrators with sugar.

Finally things get underway with reading of appropriate Tehillim (Psalms) and the start of many speeches. Cabinet Minister Yitzchak Levy emphasizes that the world should understand that "our prayers are not theoretical. When we pray for rebuilding the Temple--we mean it." Rabbi Dov Lior, rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba asked the crowd: "Who today would say that the Temple Mount is in our hands?" referring to the famous exultant exclamation by Colonel Motta Gur, commander of the forces that liberated the Old City from Jordanian occupation in June, 1967.

I pass through Meah Shearim on my way home. It's 10 p.m. and the streets are packed with ultra-Orthodox Jews scurrying about to complete pre-Rosh Hashana preparations. The presence of a few thousand of them at the rally for their most revered holy place would have been appreciated. But since the event was planned by the YESHA Council, there was no chance that would happen. With all the demonstrating that goes on in the Haredi world against various kinds of immodesty, it's disconcerting to see the seeming lack of interest in bringing their numbers out to cry out against Arab desecration of Har Habayit.

In store windows, seasonal displays of starched white kittels (coat-like garment worn by some observant men for High Holiday prayers) have replaced the white shirts and black suits for a few weeks. On street corners, vendors have tables full of Rosh Hashana cards adorned with glitter and old fashioned pictures of holiday observances.

As I open my mailbox when I arrive home, I see one of the strangest Rosh hashana fundraising appeals ever. It's a slick 4 color packet from the Vaad Harabanim--the council of rabbis. Featuring the names of some of the most
renowned rabbis in Jerusalem, the brochure promises that anyone who donates a minimum of 180 shekel (approx. $38) to benefit the 248 specially chosen families who will receive aid, will be included in the Yom Kippur eve prayers of the "great and righteous rabbis of our generation." Pictures of three rabbis are included with a check off list to ask them to pray for (a) success (b) adequate income (c) good health (d) naches from the offspring or a blank for special requests. A cassette is part of the sophisticated mail package featuring various rabbis pitching their tzedaka activities to the sounds of High Holiday music.

How about requests for prayers on behalf of the families torn apart by terror? Or for those living in places vulnerable to terrorist incursions over the holiday period? How about some prayers for an end to enemy occupation and destruction of Jewish holy sites? I don't think I'll be responding to their appeal until those things are included....