Climbing a mountain can be a spiritual and meaningful experience.
I recently returned from a week of hiking and trekking in the French Alps. This was an amazing, hiking experience. The beautiful scenery, a plethora of trees, rivers, and glaciers was something to behold. I really enjoyed the “scenic high “ that I got from all the beauty that I experienced. My legs are still enjoying and recuperating from the experience.
When I returned to Israel, I found myself climbing another mountain. The Mt of Olives.
My tourists had a specific request. They had known a Rabbi in Los Angeles who was very dear to them. Rabbi Teslar was buried on the Mt of Olives. Our quest was to locate his grave, visit and pay our respects.
The Mt of Olives is known as a very spiritual place. Many Christians visit there, as there are legends and stories in the New Testament of Jesus lodging, worshipping and more at various places on the mountain, especially the Garden of Gethsemane. The Mt of Olives is known as the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, where Jesus slept the night before his crucifixion, and where he ascended up to heaven. It is at the top of Mt of Olives that Jesus is said to have been resurrected, 40 days after his crucifixion. As such, churches abound. The Church of All Nations, Church of Mary Magdalene, Church of Dominus Flevit, Church of Pater Noster (the Lord’s Prayer), Tomb of Mary, Dome of Ascension, and the Garden of Gethsemane. One can start from the viewpoint at the top of the mountain, overlooking the beautiful and majestic city of Jerusalem. You can then walk with your guide and visit any of these churches for a truly spiritual experience.
Our spiritual mountain experience was a bit different. First, we drove through Wadi Jos”, a.k.a the eastern “garages and mechanics” of Jerusalem to get to the east side. Then we drove along the along the bottom of the mountain, past the Garden of Gethsemane. Across from the garden, at the entrance to the Kidron valley walkway, sits a kiosk, operated by the City of David. At this kiosk, one can buy drinks, ice creams and visit the clean bathrooms (very important).
Most important is the computer on the kiosk desk. For it is with this computer, that we were able to locate Rabbis Teslars’ grave. The people at Ir David (City of David) provide a tremendous service. They have made it possible to locate Jewish graves on the Mt of Olives.
You might think this is a simple thing. One can stand today at the tourists’ viewpoint at the top of the mountain, and view hundreds upon hundreds of graves. Many, but not all have names on their monuments. So finding a grave should be relatively easy.
However, this is not so. Jews have been buried on the Mt of Olives since the First Temple Period. The mountain was given special religious and spiritual significance and became an integral part of the Temple service. Jewish tradition teaches that the day will come when Elijah the prophet will ride his white donkey down the slopes of the Mt of Olives and foretell the coming of the Messiah. The prophet Ezekiel writes (chapter 37) that as part of the Messianic process, God will bring all the Dead and Dry bones of Jews everywhere to Jerusalem. As such, many Jews from all over the world want to be buried as close as possible to the heart of Jerusalem, to Mt Moriah. The ideal place, due to the sanctity of the mountain and its soft chalky consistency for burial is the Mt of Olives.
Throughout the centuries Jews strived to be buried on the Mt of Olives. Unfortunately, during the Jordanian occupation of Jerusalem from 1948-1967, the Jordanians and local Arabs desecrated the cemetery. They used the tombstones for road building and latrines. During the 6 Day War of 1967, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) was able to liberate the Mt of Olives and the Temple Mt from the Jordanians. The cemetery was in ruins. Many of the tombstones and grave markers were destroyed. Both the more recent (pre-1948), as well as the ancient. After the war, many Jews went to find the graves of their loved ones but to no avail. The Jordanians and the local Arabs had done a good job of destroying many of the graves. They truly did not expect the Jews to return.
Thanks to the staff of the City of David we are now able to once again visit and find the graves on the Mt of Olives. They took upon themselves a tremendous project, to renovate the walkways, tombstones and map their locations. So far they have been able to map 77% of the cemetery. Due to their efforts, we can now access 85% of the cemetery. FYI the cemetery covers 83% of the Mt of Olives, with room for more. The project continues even today. For more info and to search for a grave please see here.
After visiting the City of David Kiosk, we were able to locate Rabbi Teslars’ grave. We drove to the top of the Mt of Olives, parked on a level just below the tourist viewpoint. We then climbed down two more levels, to the exact spot where the computer had indicated. We found Rabbi Teslars’ grave. There is a Jewish tradition to leave stones on a persons’ grave when you visit. This stems from a Midrash (ancient commentary) about the biblical story of Jacob. When Jacob buried his wife Rachel at the side of the road on the way to Bethlehem, he covered her grave with stones representing each child, each tribe of Israel. In ancient times it became a tradition of travelers to places stones on a grave, as they passed by. A sign of visiting, caring, protection from animals. We were able to say prayers and leave stones on Rabbi Teslars’ grave. Our spiritual quest and visit to the mountain had come to an end.
Rabbi Teslar was a well known rabbi and talmudic scholar in Los Angeles. He was also a professional scribe, well known for his talent in writing official Jewish marriage and divorce documents. After we visited his grave, I continued guiding my tourists on a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. Walking through the Jewish Quarter, I led them to a store located above the Cardo called the “Jerusalem Fifth Quarter”. Here we met a modern-day Scribe, who was able to demonstrate and explain to us the intricacies of scriptural writings. Truly this was the perfect way to honor Rabbi Teslars’ memory and enhance our spiritual climb up the mountain.
On your next visit to Israel, let’s visit the Mt of Olives for a truly spiritual, and meaningful experience.