It is surprisingly easy to get blasé about living in the Old City. Even in the shadow of the holiest place on earth, day-to-day routine takes over. Omnipresent tourists and what-should-be-surreal surroundings don’t prevent the Rova from becoming the neighborhood. Two-thousand-year-old column fragments are just another place to stop and tie your shoes. The local shtiebel, where you can easily grab a minyan, also happens to be the over-700-year-old Ramban synagogue.
So you have to keep your eyes open for chances to really take advantage of the location, and remind yourself where you are. Although I usually don’t do my davening at the Kosel, on Erev Pesach, I specifically went there for mincha. After mincha, I stood at the Wall and recited the Order of the korban Pesach (consisting primarily of the mishnayos that describe the procedure), a little overwhelmed at the thought that, if the Beis Hamikdash were standing, I would be only a short distance away, up on Har Habayis, with my korban. Jewish cultural memory is very strong. We haven’t brought a korban Pesach in 2,000 years, but it feels like we stopped yesterday, and are ready to resume tomorrow.
Although our seder went well past midnight, I decided to drag myself out of bed for the vasikin minyan at the Churva synagogue. I enjoy davening there, but the reason I dragged myself out of bed after about 3 1/2 hours of sleep (services started at 4:54 a.m.) was the post-shacharis “aliyah leregel.” There is a mitzvah in the Torah to go up to the Beis Hamikdash in Jerusalem on three holidays – Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos (the “shalosh regalim“). Today, when there is no Temple, the mitzvah is not operative, but the Zilbermans (who run Yitzi’s school and, effectively, the Churva) organize an outing in remembrance of the mitzvah on each of the regalim. After the vasikin minyan, a group of us gathered up and (with police escort) walked into the Muslim Quarter, to a shuk that ended in steps up to a huge double-door opening onto Har Habayis, facing where the Kadosh Hakedoshim (central, most holy part of the Beis Hamikdash) stood. The doors were closed, but a smaller door-within-a-door was open. At that time of the morning, the shuk was closed, making it an empty, dark tunnel. We walked into the shuk, continuing the on-and-off singing since we’d left the Churva. Striding along towards Har Habayis, singing “Ki Va Moed,” with literally a bright light at the end of the tunnel, was a spine-tingling taste of what we hope is soon to come.
The police let us approach in small groups, go up the steps, and peer through the door. All you could really see was a courtyard and the base of the Dome of the Rock, but it was amazing. As each group finished looking, they joined the rest in a huge circle of singing and dancing in the dark shuk. I made my way home and crawled into bed for a few hours more sleep before lunch.