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Right in the Middle of it all

“Because of the holiness of Shabbat, the Fast of the Ninth of Av (“Tish’ah B’Av”) is observed today, Av 10. The fast mourns the destruction of the Temple and the exile of Israel

For approximately 25 hours–from sundown on Saturday to nightfall Sunday evening–we abstain from eating and drinking, bathing, the wearing of leather footwear, and marital relations. It is customary to sit on the floor or a low seat until after mid-day. Torah study is restricted to laws of mourning, passages describing the destruction of the Temple, and the like. The tefillin are worn only during the afternoon Minchah prayers.” (Online Source)

After weeks of reflection and quite a stressful schedule, I’m finally able to describe to you one of the most intense, eye-opening, and wonderful nights I experienced in Jerusalem.
On the night of August 29th, I was caught between Ramadan and Tishah B’av, two religions, two peoples- two worlds.

We took the train to Damascus gate. The station was packed with Hasidic, Zionist, and modern Jews which I was able to differentiate by their clothing, kipah style, and with the help of my good friend and co-worker, recently turned non-religious yeshiva alum, Beny. He reiterated the importance of kipahs to Jewish identity adding that “the material that it is made is just as important as the color of the kipah. For example, the knitted kippot are worn by religious Zionist and modern orthodox Jews while velvet or cloth variations are typically worn by Charedim. When I was religious I wore a woven black kipah because I’m an academic.”

The usual black dress shoes were replaced with dark colored crocs, nike shoes with rubber flip flops, and some opted shoes for nothing at all. The absence of leather was just one of the many signs that the people surrounding me were headed to the Cotel. When we got off at Damascus gate only a small fraction of the train joined us. I soon realized why as we got closer to the Muslim quarter; There were buses full of Jews, streets full of Arabs, every inch of the the sidewalks were used for small businesses or street traffic. Ramadan had ended a few hours before and lights, people, music, food, and shopping transformed the area from my familiar quiet morning and early afternoon commute to work to a louder and more compact version of time square.

The small group of Jews that got off the train with us had gathered with many others at a bustop near the gate, but instead of using the sidewalk by the bus sign, they stayed further back, hidden under a tree’s shadow packed together for protection. As buses full of Jews passed as they made their way to the Cotel, jeering Arab children and teenagers sat on railings lining the road. I was immediately grateful for wearing my leather sandals, and took off my sweater to look more immodest and therefore more foreign. I felt conflicted seeing those who weren’t foreign and who couldn’t disguise themselves and whose identity was out in the open, only feeling protected in numbers under a tree. How it must feel to be in an open space where you outnumbered by people who wish you didn’t exist. How it must feel to cross a street and then suddenly be vulnerable.
We found that only a few Jews were willing to take the path to the Cotel through the Arab market and even then, were redirected out of the market by Israeli police and soldiers. When we got a couple minutes away from Al-aqsa entrance, the service had just let out and the roads became even more flooded with Muslims.

We passed through the normal security, and entered the Jewish quarter which was heavily crowded. The normal section separator was expanded outwards to make more room for that night’s visitors and protect purity through separation of the sexes. Guards were stationed to enforce the intention’s of the barrier where women with small families were resting on the ground with blankets and pillows. Everywhere were people with tissues and tears, mourning the destruction of the temple. It was like I passed through a veil, entering a parallel universe going through security. Whereas before I was surrounded with joy, and loud life after breaking a long day’s fast, this holiday was about quiet, respect, and mourning. The sudden switch of vibes definitely affected me.

We went around the Jewish quarter overlooking the Cotel hoping to find an interesting pathway through the rooftops and ran into an exhibition by “The Temple Institute” which showed plans for rebuilding the temple with a model where the Dome of the Rock and Al-aqsa were missing from it’s plans. The workers of the exhibit asked for donations that would fund the purchases of proper building materials, priest’s robes, and other necessary materials needed for producing the exact replica. The demonstration seemed to seduce many of the mourners and gave me a weird feelings towards this kind of nationalism since the “Temple Mount” is important to Islam as well.

When we finally made our way back to the train station, the buses had JUST stopped running (we probably shouldn’t have stopped for that 10nis Shwarma…) so we had a nice long walk back to Mount Scopus to reflect on the night that showed a very different picture of Jerusalem.

Rebekah Renfro

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