Isaiah 56: 6-7
Also the foreigners that join themselves to the Lord to minister unto him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, …
Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon mine alter, for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
The icon of Jerusalem is the Dome of the Rock that stands on the Temple Mount, exactly where once was the Holy of Holies that housed the Ark of the Covenant in King Solomon’s Temple.
There was a time when that bothered me.
For most of the thirty-plus years that I’ve lived in Israel, I knew … I learnt… what Israel is today, but I didn’t study the history of this place, I didn’t know how it became what it is (in all its glory and all its failures). We sealed a room and put our toddler into a gas mask during the Gulf War with scuds raining down. We watched the Oslo Accords fail in an orgy of suicide bombings. And then “disengagement“ where all the Jews were removed from Gaza leading quickly to the violent Hamas takeover. It was during the worst of the suicide bombings, after the restaurant down the road from us was blown up and families with grandparents to babies murdered, that I started to have revenge fantasies of the terrorists blowing up their own Dome of the Rock and then going somewhere else so we could live in the biblical heartland, and rebuild our temple in peace.
In the meanwhile: the wars and intifadas didn’t stop our boys from growing up in a child’s paradise. They played outside with all the neighborhood kids, free and safe: a tree house that they called their camp, hide and seek that became ever more sophisticated as they grew older, all the Jewish holidays celebrated by everyone. Friends made for life. Concurrently, we participated in the transformation of ‘Israel the backwater’ into Israel the Start Up Nation and a regional power.
About two years ago I took the course to become a registered Israeli tour guide and for a year I studied the vast history of Israel from books, lectures and sites. During one of the many scheduled tours of the Old City of Jerusalem, our class was standing on a high place between the Jewish Quarter and the Muslim Quarter with a perfect view of the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives and the eastern skyline. Our teacher first taught us to recognize all the buildings on the horizon, and then he gave a brief description of the Dome of the Rock.
“Jerusalem was taken from the Byzantine Empire in 638 by the Umayyad early Arabs, and then about 50 years later the Dome of the Rock was built by Abed al-Malik. It is the oldest surviving Islamic building in the world, and while the Al-Aqsa Mosque built nearby and every other building in the area were repeatedly destroyed by earthquakes, the Dome of the Rock has stood through them all.”
Oldest Islamic building! I thought to myself. And here it is in Jerusalem a few meters from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is arguably the holiest place in the world for Christians. Something clicked in my mind, and instead of resentment that an Islamic building was standing on the most holy place in the world for Jews, I felt wonder. I looked with new eyes, the building was gleaming and perfect. We Jews returned to our ancient homeland, but now we were entrusted not only with our own holy places, but with the holy places of the all the Abrahamic Religions. I thought of an earlier part of our tour when we’d visited a building that was purported to be the burial place of King David, the room where the Last Supper took place, and was once a mosque. How does one administer such a place? The solution was all people were allowed to pray there, but communal prayer services were not allowed. It worked.
Since that day touring the Old City I’ve repeatedly slipped into a messianic fantasy, a waking dream about that one spot on earth from which God created the world. Where Abraham took Isaac. The place that King David bought from a Jebusite man named Araunah. Where the Tabernacle was placed. Where King Solomon built the First Temple with its Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant. Where the Temple was rebuilt and then renovated by Herod the Great. Where Jesus worshiped, and to where Mohamed traveled on his Night Journey, and where Abed al-Malik built the Dome of the Rock.
Where the spirit of God always resides.
Why couldn’t the Dome of the Rock itself be the “House of prayer for all peoples”? Perhaps that is what it is meant to be.