Englewood—Aharon Pulver, executive director of the Israel Independence Fund, came to Englewood last week to discuss the message of Haliba, one of the initiatives the fund supports. Pulver shared that Haliba was begun about a year ago with a goal to make the Temple Mount, the Har HaBayit, a shared sacred space between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Haliba is an acronym for L’Hofesh Yehudi Har Habayit (Freedom for Jews on the Temple Mount).
The site of the binding of Isaac, the first and second Temples, and the place where God chose the divine presence to rest (Isaiah 8:18), is considered the most holy of all Jewish sites. The Mount is widely considered the third holiest site in Islam. The Dome of the Rock, completed in 629 CE, is one of the oldest Islamic structures in the world. The Dome sits in the center of the Temple Mount, where the Holy of Holies is said to rest, where the Torah says the Temple will be rebuilt.
According to Pulver, Jews are limited in their visits to the Temple Mount because of the explosive nature of the Muslim activists there, who contest any Jewish presence at the site at all. Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount through the Mugrabi Gate, Sunday through Friday between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. and between 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. Jews are not allowed to pray and are not allowed to bring religious articles. They are, in fact, not allowed to stop moving as they walk the perimeter, or move their lips in prayer, Pulver said. Muslims, on the other hand, may enter through one of 10 gates, and are allowed to walk, sit, and pray freely, with religious articles. Religious Christians may enter through only two gates, and, like Jews, are also not allowed to bring religious articles. The area has been guarded by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf police (Jordanians) since 1967, in addition to a presence from Israeli border guards.
Because the site is a focal point of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Israeli government enforces the ban on prayer by non-Muslim visitors. Still, the Temple Mount frequently erupts in violence, including recently when police used stun guns to subdue a group of rioting Palestinians. Five arrests were made.
The event’s host in Englewood, Elliot Auerbacher, told JLBC that he got involved with the Haliba cause because he was horrified by his own treatment upon visiting the Temple Mount last erev Tisha B’av. “We got chased off by the police,” he said, because his group asked to walk to the right, not left, on Derech Aveilus (the path of the mourners). “The police started fighting with our group. The Arabs then saw that the cops were fighting with the Jews, and all of a sudden they came in massive numbers and were screaming and throwing stuff at us,” Auerbacher said.
“We are actually building on a consensus that already exists,” said Pulver. “When we first started this, about a year ago, we paid for Israel’s first professional public relations survey about the public’s position on the Temple Mount. A whopping 69% of all Jews in Israel believe in the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount,” he said.
Pulver was asked about the internecine opinion of those who believe that Jews themselves should today not ascend to the Temple Mount at all, because today we don’t know the exact location where the Holy of Holies stood. He said that is a very Haredi viewpoint, and that most sources today feel confident that the perimeter of the Dome of the Rock, where Jews customarily visit, is not part of this area.
Addressing the fact that this topic is considered one of Israel’s most polarizing issues, Pulver discussed the concept that Haliba’s goals are simple and direct. “A lot of the people who have addressed the issue before have been considered insane. They kind of facilitated that opinion because they demanded things when it was not the right time to demand. They didn’t really state the case as it is, and this is clearly a case of Jewish violation of civil and religious rights. Nothing more, nothing less,” he said. “We want to make this a shared sacred space,” Pulver said.
“Israel is a country, I am proud to say, where umpteen times a day, if you’re driving on the roads, you will see Muslim drivers pulling over to the side of the road, pulling out a prayer mat, and engaging in prayer. Gas stations, bus stops, in public parks—no one’s heard of a Muslim being accosted in Israel for being on his prayer mat in a public place. Never!
“Muslim civil and religious rights in the state of Israel are more protected than Jewish civil and religious rights. I am proud to live in a country where Muslim civil rights are protected, but, as we respect their rights, we are obligated to respect our own. You can’t really respect someone else’s rights without respecting your own. You have to say, ‘I am a human being. I deserve the right to pray.’”
Haliba’s funder, the Israel Independence Fund, is a strategic philanthropic group started in 2007 to support grass roots, solution-oriented organizations that strengthen the Jewish and Zionist core of Israel. Other programs the funds supports are Regavim, a land resources inspection monitoring group, Adir Ba’Maron, an IDF cooperative organization that provides post-high school education and placement into the Israeli Air Force for new immigrants, a yeshiva in Upper Nazareth, the Tavor Pre-Military Academy for Social Leadership and a scholarship program for Druze IDF veterans, among others.
Haliba uses funds to subsidize buses of visitors to the Temple Mount, as well as to raise awareness and other logistics of the campaign.
Israel Independence Fund’s board of directors include Stanley Rosenberg of Englewood, and the organization’s founding president and current board chair Jeffrey S. Wiesenfeld, a well-known philanthropist who also serves as board chairman of the Folksbeine. He is also a trustee of CUNY.
“The Temple Mount is not a religious issue,” Wiesenfeld told JLBC. “Some would like to portray it as tzitzit-wagging settlers going up there and making a scene. but that is a caricature. This is simply the failure to provide equal access to Jews on the Temple Mount. Jews have to have an appointment to go to Har Habayit in groups of ten. If Muslims riot, the area is immediately closed to Jews,” he said. “The Har Habayit is the heart and soul of the Jewish people. It’s a Vatican that Jews can’t even visit,” Wiesenfeld added.
Those wishing to learn more about Haliba may visit http://www.fundisrael.org.
By Elizabeth Kratz