My Barber, My Book — and The Temple Mount

Could a Jersey Hairdresser Answer Question About Jerusalem?

Jerusalem: Ruchama King Feuerman needed to find out whether there are bathrooms on the Temple Mount for her book, ‘In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist.
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Jerusalem: Ruchama King Feuerman needed to find out whether there are bathrooms on the Temple Mount for her book, ‘In the Courtyard of the Kabbalist.

By Ruchama King Feuerman

Published November 03, 2013, issue of November 08, 2013.
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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.


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