Are there toilets on the Temple Mount? I needed to find out. You see, a main character in a novel I was writing, “In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist,” is a toilet cleaner on the Temple Mount. Naturally, I wanted to know what the bathroom area looked like. As much as possible, I wanted the details of my novel to reflect reality.
I myself had never been up there. I’m an Orthodox Jew. Most rabbinic authorities forbid me to enter those catacombs. (A sign posted just outside the Mugrabe Gate reminds you.) Also, I live far away, in Passaic, N.J. So I had to rely on other sources of information.
I asked all the Muslim Arabs I knew if they could describe the bathrooms on the Temple Mount, or the Noble Sanctuary, as they call it. I spoke with my computer guy, Ali. My ob-gyn, Yusef. My mother’s Arab friends. (She’s originally from Casablanca.) I don’t remember exactly what they said but I didn’t get any clear answers. Maybe they were embarrassed to admit they’d never been there.
And then I remembered Waleed. He was my son’s barber. Many Orthodox Jewish men from the Passaic area went to him, including my husband. Waleed’s barber shop was a stone’s throw from the Kosher Konnection grocery and Bagel Munch. In the late afternoon, all work came to a halt when Waleed took out his prayer mat and recited the Asr prayer. Every time I went to his shop I saw pictures of the Temple Mount flashing on his computer screen, a veritable Noble Sanctuary slide show. Waleed would give me details.
And my son needed a haircut.
Waleed knew all the Jewish laws related to hair, and he had memorized the haircutting and no-haircutting dates interspersed throughout the calendar. He was as conversant as any observant Jew. And helpful. Once I wanted to get my hair dyed but for modesty reasons, I didn’t want any men to see my hair. He sectioned off his barbershop with a plastic sheet and had a young woman do the job. I was touched. I couldn’t help thinking, in another part of the world, we would not have interacted like this, without a trace of friction. In Israel, with my head scarf and long, flowing skirts, I could have easily been mistaken for a West Bank settler. It turns out life in Passaic has its occasional blessings.
“Have you been to the Temple Mount?” I asked him one afternoon while he snapped the barber apron around my son’s neck.
“Oh ho. Of course I’ve been. My father lives in Al-Quds.” He showed me a picture of his father, an old man in a kaffiyeh and long beard. “I was born in Balestine,” he said, mixing up the p and b like many Israeli Arabs do.