Bid the players make haste.
-- William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III
The crowd overflows the rectangular prayer area next to the Western Wall, filling the wide plaza behind, tens of thousands of men and women holding the hands of small children, and more keep pouring through the metal detectors at the entrance. The men grasp long palm fronds, making the plaza look as if an oasis grove had uprooted itself from the desert and come on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It's the autumn festival of Sukkot, and the fronds are for waving in celebration of God's life-giving.
Four guys with scruffy late-adolescent beards sit below the ramp that leads to Mughrabi Gate, waiting for Gershon Salomon. Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, is one of several times of year when Salomon marches up the ramp with his Temple Mount Faithful, demands to enter the sacred precincts, and calls for replacing the Islamic shrines with the Third Temple. Standard turnout is around two dozen--aging ultranationalists alongside a few activists left over from Meir Kahane's Kach movement and some teens from the fringe of religious Zionism. The myriads of Jews, to Salomon's outraged incomprehension, prefer to make pilgrimage to the Wall.
Though the Temple movement has grown, Jewish support for Salomon has faded. The extreme nationalism of soil, myth and messianism no longer grabs Israeli secularists. Though Salomon now wears the skullcap of a religious Jew, he's still perceived in the Temple movement as a secularist, and "Orthodox Jews don't want to join an organization led by a person who's not religious," as one ex-ally says. When one of Salomon's grey-haired followers stands at the Wall plaza, shouting through a bullhorn at holiday worshippers to take the Mount from the Muslims, ultra-Orthodox men gather around to argue theology. "Until the messiah comes, it's forbidden to go up there," roars a yeshivah student."You're standing in the messiah's way," Salomon's man yells."You think this is redemption? Redemption is when you and I overcome our evil impulses."
"Great sages told them to, not a few media hounds."
This time, though, Salomon has reinforcements. A Florida pastor stands near the ramp with congregants from his Florida church. He's wearing a T-shirt that reads "Space Coast Prophecy Conference" and a nametag from the Feast of Tabernacles celebration run by the International Christian Embassy.
The "embassy" is a pro-Israel evangelical group formed in 1980; its annual gathering brings over 5,000 people to the city to proclaim love for Israel, and to fulfill Zechariah's prophecy that in the Last Days all nations will come to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot. Salomon has spoken at the Florida church. "We support building the Temple," the pastor says. "We support what he's doing. He's a Zionist."
Salomon arrives, leaning on his cane. Someone hands out Temple Mount Faithful flags, blue and white with a yellow map of the Much Greater Land of Israel stretching from the Sinai to Iraq, and evangelical visitors grab them. At crowd's edge, I get a happy handshake from Texas oilman Hayseed Stephens, who hopes to fund the next Temple's construction after his well hits petroleum where the Bible told him, next to the Dead Sea. Wearing a brilliant white Stetson, he drawls, "Lots of people think Gershon is meshuganeh, they think I'm meshuganeh. The only way to tell is that if he builds the Temple he's not nuts, and if the Lord comes I'm not nuts."
A woman from Philadelphia tells me that for the last year, she's been raising money for the Faithful among Christians; at the Embassy celebration, giving is good. "I don't find much interest among Jews," whether Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox, she says. It probably doesn't help that her sales pitch includes catastrophic conflict on Israeli soil. "I think there's a war coming within a year or two," she tells me, smiling and citing Ezekiel 38. It's a reference to the invasion of Israel by the mythic forces of Magog, leading to the Last World War. "Then the way will be paved for the Temple. We're reaching the End of the Age."
Nearby, a Danish woman with a guitar tells me of writing the score for a musical, The Temple Shall Be Built Again. It will be performed at another Tabernacles gathering, organized by the International Christian Zionist Center, a break-away from the Embassy. Finally, the group surges up the ramp, 150 people, perhaps 200. At the green gate at the top, the police commander recites his standard line to Salomon: "I'm sorry to say you can't enter. The Mount is closed today to visitors." The potent fumes of sanctity are in the air, and the cops don't want Salomon lighting any matches.