Jerusalem of below
Kibbutz Tzuba, 1988
Last week the 24th Ulpan (Hebrew classes) concluded with the sounds of trumpets; that is to say the best experience of this ulpan occurred specifically on its final day.
The centralism of Jerusalem in the Jewish consciousness has always been one of the emphases of the ulpan at Tzuba – and during it we tell the students in great detail about the Temple built by King Herod (“One who has not seen a building constructed by Herod has never seen a beautiful building in his life”). Unfortunately there are no remains of this temple therefore every instructor uses the Holyland Hotel model.
However, the entire southern area of the Temple Mount (on which the El Aksa Mosque is located) is an artificial surface built on arches and columns which are remains of the Herodian era (with renovations from the Middle Ages). It occurred to me that a visit under the Temple Mount in those halls known as “Solomon’s stables” would illustrate the beauty of the construction in historical Jerusalem. We should emphasize that this name (Solomon’s stables) was given to the place by the Crusaders who attributed the stables (erroneously) to King Solomon and used them as stables.
I had never entered Solomon’s stables with groups (and had not been able to gain entry at all over the past 12 years). The Wakf does not enable entry for its own reasons. Without any expectations as regards the chance of visiting this special site at any time soon, we ascended the Temple Mount ready for almost certain failure.
At one of the gates of the Mount within the Muslim quarter we underwent security checks which took a bit of time. While we were still waiting for permission to enter the area of the Mount, the Mufti himself with a group of students arrived. As the Mufti is a very old man, we didn’t find it hard to catch up with him. There was a moment of considerable embarrassment. And then suddenly I found the courage to turn to him: “Excuse me Sir, is it true that you are the Mufti?” I asked in English “Yes” the Mufti replied “Would you perhaps allow my group to visit Solomon’s stables?” After quarter of a minute of tension he answered: “Come to my office in a few minutes”.
I immediately agreed and thanked him although I had no idea where his office was. We waited patiently as the Mufti walked slowly in the direction of the Dome of the Rock. And suddenly he was swallowed up into an ancient building. I followed him and the office workers of course stopped me. I explained to them that the Mufti had invited me; the Mufti confirmed what I said. I was sent to a building under the Dome of the Rock, there they typed out for me a letter on a typewriter in Arabic in which it was written that the Mufti was permitting me to enter Solomon’s Stables. I returned to the office in order for him to sign it and together with an Arab security guard, we reached a corner of the Temple Mount and an ancient iron door. After some kicking and knocking and attempts to turn the key, the Arab security guard managed to open the door and we descended into those magical rooms which are the foundation of the Temple Mount. We saw rows and rows of arches with chiselling from the time of Herod; we saw the Hulda Gates (from inside) and the underground passageway which led us to a stairway ascending to the Temple Mount level (however the ancient opening was of course blocked). It was the main passageway in which the masses of Jews from the City of David ascended to the Temple. It seems to me that it was the most exciting trip of all the ulpans and an unforgettable experience for the concluding ulpan.