On Tuesday July 25, I arrived at the Temple Mount along with well known Israel activist Rabbi Ari Abramowitz. This particular visit came on the heels of a grisly murder that took the lives of three members of the Salomon family in the Samarian town of Halamish.
As their blood was still being wiped off of their kitchen floor, the Israeli government allowed that same terrorist to enjoy top notch medical care at the taxpayer’s expense. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority is paying him a monthly salary of $3,100 for his crime. So if the murderer will never see justice, the least we could do is honor their memories by reciting Mourner’s Kaddish (the prayer recited in memory of Jews who have passed away).
And that was precisely what Rabbi Abramowitz set out to do. But the Israeli police had other plans.
We originally arrived at the entrance to the bridge leading up to Har Habayit at 7:00 AM. The police enforce a strict quota policy with regards to the amount of Jews who can enter the Temple Mount. So while we waited at the entrance and then on the access bridge itself, we sat and watched the steady stream of non-Jewish tourists enter the mount unimpeded. They looked at us as if to say “why the hell do we tourists have quicker access to your holy site than you local tax-paying citizens?”. My only response was look away in shame.
After an hour and ten minutes, we finally entered the Temple Mount. Truth be told, it was much more relaxed than I had seen in videos. Mind you, this was when the Wakf was boycotting the site. This meant that Har Habayit was essentially free of Arab presence. But that didn’t seem to phase the police who herded us along like cattle. We arrived at a spot adjacent to the Holy of Holies. Suddenly, Ari broke into an emotional speech recounting the gruesome deaths of the Salomon family of Halamish. At the end of his statements, Abramowitz announced that he will now recite the Mourner’s Kaddish in their honor. And despite the fact that there were no Muslims in sight to get offended, it didn’t stop the Israeli police from warning him against his ‘insightful’ prayer.
And then it happened.
The words ‘Yitkadal Vyitkadash Shemah Rabah’ dramatically rolled off of his tongue waking up the otherwise quiet Mountain. The crowd answered ‘Amen’. But that was as far as he got. You’d think that saying a prayer to God would be a protected right in the only democracy in the Middle East. Actually it is…unless you’re Jewish. So before he could continue, a police officer physically covered Ari’s mouth with his hand preventing him from continuing the prayer any further.
As a law abiding citizen, I should have allowed the arrest to take place in silence. But as a Jew, the injustice taking place simply couldn’t be ignored. As soon as I saw my rabbi being physically silenced from praying by a government representative, I immediately had flashbacks to footage I saw of the British who would arrest Jews for blowing the Shofar at the Kotel during the Mandate period. The fact that it was happening in the Jewish homeland in 2017 was for me, crossing the line. I decided that no Jew will be silenced from praying in a public holy site in Jerusalem if I could help it. After all the Lechi fighters didn’t risk their lives to liberate our land so that Jews themselves would continue to suffer from the same discriminatory, antisemitic practices they did under the British.
So as I saw my friend being silenced, I resolved that getting arrested wouldn’t be enough to stop me from asking God to have mercy on the souls of the Salomon family.
That was when I continued the Kaddish that Ari started.
‘B’alma Divra Chirutai’…suddenly, I felt the thrust of another policeman pulling me off of the stump I was standing on. He grabbed my wrist and whisked me off of the mount in a scurry. I didn’t resist arrest. Neither me nor Ari were handcuffed. We were escorted from the Temple Mount to the adjacent police station by officers. They were surprisingly nice to us offering us each of us a bottle of water and dried cupcakes. They took us to the courtyard of the station in the Muslim quarter of the Old City where we waited for fifty minutes while they did whatever paperwork work they had to do. Incidentally, an ER doctor who emigrated from Russia joined us in the detaining area. His crime: answering ‘Amen’ to our Kaddish prayer.
That doctor summed up the entire current state of Israel for me. A man who fled the USSR because he wanted to practice Judaism without getting arrested, finally makes it to the Jewish state where he now finds himself in a holding cell for the very thing he escaped Russia for. When our time was up, the police called us into an office finalize the report. They asked me if I had anything to say, even suggesting I apologize for what I did and promise never to pray on the Temple Mount again. I wanted to demand that they should be the ones apologizing to me. Instead, I exercised my right to remain silent. My arresting officer sent us on our way with a document and a summons to meet with the station chief. There Was no official letter, just a post-it with a phone number scribbled on it that we had to call. And that was it. Ironically, I waited longer to get onto the Temple Mount than I did for being detained after praying on it.
More than anything, this disturbing experience reminded me that the nation of Israel has a serious leadership problem. Despite the fact that the current government calls themselves ‘right wing’, the only political party who seems to be advocating full freedom of Jewish worship on public property is the Zehut party headed by Moshe Feiglin. I may not agree with everything he says, but he is the only one prioritizing the civil rights of the Jewish people over the threats of their enemies. The age of risking police officer lives to please the very people who kill them must end. Arresting Jews for praying in public spaces puts Israel on the wrong side of history. The people are thirsty for a change. And if our leadership doesn’t wake up, they will soon find themselves unemployed come election time. Because Israel deserves better.