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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Waleed stopped, his electric shaver poised over my son’s neck, and threw me a look, as if to say: Do you think I lied to you?

I felt his half-angry, half-wounded look in my rib cage. It felt personal.

“No bathroom,” he repeated with a faintly aggrieved air, and went back to finishing my son’s neckline. He had a lot of business that day. It was before Passover and many Jews from my community were getting pre-holiday haircuts.

For the life of me I didn’t get it. But where do they… go? He was so sure, so resolute. I could almost believe him for his earnestness. But I saw by the set of his mouth that further discussion was not possible. The toilet issue had reached the realm of religious conviction.

I was unnerved. I made more calls. I heard so many opposing convictions, it rattled my brain. The pro-bathroom side, the anti-bathroom side. The problem was, it was easy to adopt an anti-bathroom position. You didn’t have to prove anything. The pro-bathroom side had to back itself up with pesky specifics, and all I got were vague statements like what the policeman had said: “something on the other side.”

Along the way, Muslim worshippers told me about some other Haram al-Sharif rules. Like, no dogs are allowed up there, due to the sacredness. And yet school boys play soccer with gusto yards away from their holiest site. Soccer, yes; dogs, no. Then I figured, wherever there are boys playing soccer, there had to be boys who needed to go.

But still there was no bathroom consensus. Was I surprised? No. When it comes to the Middle East, no one can agree on anything, even the existence of a bathroom.

On the face of it, who cares? Yes bathroom, no bathroom. It’s fiction! And yet I wanted the novel to be a meditation on objects that are filtered through personality, culture and religion. Whatever. I was obsessed.

Finally someone gave me the number of a young Arab couple living in Passaic. I spoke with the husband. At first I circled around the topic. He named the trees and bushes growing on the Temple Mount, the food courts up there, and what was popular — knafeh and katayef, although the latter is only eaten during Ramadan. He’d grown up in Israel; his family had lived in various villages. My Arab character also had grown up in a village and I wanted as many authenticating details as I could find, from living, breathing people. “How many kids sleep in a bedroom?” I asked, expecting to hear that nine children were crammed into a single room on a torn mattress.

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