After a few false starts – this week we finally commenced Batgirl’s year long Bat Mitzvah program. The truth is, I am actually happy that bad weather caused the postponement of our first scheduled outing, because this was the very best place to launch a year of Bat Mitzvah exploration.
Time: 17:50pm – it’s dark and very C-O-L-D
Place: Old City, Jerusalem
Participants: BATgirl, and the BATfamily, grandparents and most of her aunts, uncles and cousins
Destination: Kotel Tunnels
As we entered the Kotel Tunnels, our guide introduced himself and explained to us the history of the Kotel Tunnels. In short, Herod, the Great builder and lunatic King, decided to renovate the Second Temple as one of his magnificent and ambitious building projects. Being that the Temple stood on a relatively small Jerusalem mountain peak (identified as Har HaMoriah where Avraham bound Isaac and learnt the nature of Jewish faith) and space was limited, he built a massive platform and expanded the Temple Mount area to a huge plaza measuring about 2,575 by 985 feet, with eight gates. These efforts more than doubled the size of the Temple building.
The Western Wall that we know today, is not a remaining wall from the Temple itself, it is the Western supporting wall of the plaza platform, and it is the closest we can get to the Holy of Holies – the sacred space where only the Kohen HaGadol (High Priest) would go once a year, on Yom Kippur.
Four years after Herod’s Temple was finally completed, it was destroyed by the Romans, and Jewish History – in short – from takes a choppy and bloody road downwards! Fast forward 1500 years from the destruction of the Temple: the Temple Mount now houses a mosque and a Muslim shrine, and the Mamluk (Turk) rulers of Israel have built a Muslim neighborhood literally on and around 90% of the western supporting wall of the Temple Mount. A symbolic 10% was left unbuilt on, part of this was used as an area to dump garbage – the Western Wall.
The Western Wall tunnels are actually a result of a very delicate digging operation which started after 1967. The digging project involved digging beneath the residential neighborhoods which were built against the Western Wall on top of ancient structures from the Second Temple period. The diggings required close supervision by experts in the fields of structural engineering, archeology and Jewish law. After almost twenty years, and despite large difficulties, the Western Wall Tunnels were revealed, literally becoming a time tunnel, transporting anyone in them to Jerusalem in the first century C.E – the greatest days in the history of the city.
Our tour in the labyrinths along the length of the Western Wall was half in English, half in Hebrew – to suit the different needs of three generations of participants. Batgirl and her siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins participated in a bit of role play, a bit of running and climbing, a bit of squeezing into tight spots, and a lot of discovering incredible and surprising sights. In short, we got to build a vivid picture in our minds of Ancient Jerusalem.
After our tour, we reconvened at Bibi’s (a great steak bar in Talpiot), Dod Yishai was invited to share some thoughts with BATgirl. He reminded us that our Kotel Tunnels tour took place just a few days after 10th of Tevet, the date that marks the destruction of the Jewish Temple. This tour in face signified the closing of a circle. Despite the Jewish tragedy that caused destruction and exile for the Jewish people, we were three generations of Tarlow’s and Kaplinski’s, coming from at least 3 different continents, all of us Israeli’s walking through the Holiest of spaces in modern and rebuilt Jerusalem. In the tunnels by the Western wall of the Temple Mount, we celebrated the closed the circle of the wandering Jew, we had reached the end of the long journey. We are finally home! We celebrated Batgirl’s commitment to the Jewish people, our land and our Torah. It was very meaningful and the family celebration was complete.