Etzion News

An English E-Newsletter for Yeshivat Har Etzion Alumni 
 Elul 5767



A Visit to Har Habayit
- Simeon Botwinick ('06)


A Visit to Har Habayit


-Simeon Botwinick '06


On Monday, the 4th of Sivan (May 21), I was part of a group of Har Etzion students led by Rav Yitzchak Levi that had the opportunity to visit Har Habayit.  This was no haphazard, trip-on-a-whim; we had prepared by learning the relevant halachot with Rav Levi, by discussing the history of the site and the situation today, and by toveling the day before and the day of in a mikva.  But for all the preparation we did, I can't say I was prepared.


The visit was an overwhelming rush of conflicting feelings.  As we ascended the wooden ramp to Har Habayit, looking down on people praying at the Kotel, it hit me where exactly we were going: to the place, the place Jews all over the world face when they pray, the center of the Jewish nation, the place Jews for centuries visited on the shalosh regalim, one of which was only two days away.  The feeling of return, of visiting the place where the Jewish people intrinsically belong was overpowering.


And yet, though my eyes wanted to see all that my heart knew they should see, they instead were faced with the present reality.  I knew Har Habayit wasn't in Jewish control, but actually seeing it made the churban so much more tangible.  It's one thing to know that all we have is the Kotel; itís something entirely different to see what we could have, sitting just beyond.


The trip was a mix of exhilaration at seeing Rav Yitzchak Levi point out exactly where the Kodesh HaKedoshim stood, and anguish at seeing a mosque sitting in its place.  The trip was a mix of joy at being able to visit the site towards which Jewish prayers for centuries have been directed, and deep sadness at having to hide and disguise our prayers.  It was a mix of heartfelt righteousness at saying the shir shel yom looking at the place where the Levi'im said it, and a feeling of injustice at seeing tourists standing there, laughing and taking pictures.   


We were unable to take siddurim, pray openly, or bow, and we had guards watching over us the entire time.  Unquestionably, things are not as they should be.  However, the fact remains, we are a step closer than we have been for centuries. We may have been severely restricted, but we did visit Har Habayit, the source of our nation's dreams and longings.  And when we exited the area, when we all tore our shirts and danced in a circle singing bimhera beyameinu sheyibaneh, it was with real tears in my eyes that I, for the first time, really realized how important this place was to me.