I recently prayed in the basement of the iconic Frauenkirche in Dresden, where original chambers, spared from the 1945 firebombing, serve as sanctuaries and prayer/meditation rooms. Aside from the three-dimensional cross in the center, the basement hall hardly advertises any creed.
Father in heaven forgive me, but I sat in the room dedicated to the Ten Commandments – the closest to my tradition – and prayed: for the peace of Israel, the world, and the blessings we all wish for ourselves and loved ones. Surprisingly, it was as spiritually fulfilling as some of my prayer sessions at the Kotel, the Western Wall.
The “Church of the Lady” was built as a glorious Protestant church in defiance of August the Strong, the Saxon ruler who controversially converted to Catholicism in his quest to secure the Polish crown. He died in 1733, a year before the Frauenkirche’s inauguration, but Bach broke in the state-of-the-art organ. Call its destruction measure for measure; during Kristallnacht of 1938, the beautiful Dresden synagogue built in 1840 burned to the ground.
A day after the Royal Air Force firebombing on Tuesday night, February 13, 1945, survivors walked cautiously through the destroyed Old Town to see what was left of their homes, their city, and of course, their “Holy Temple,” the Frauenkirche. Only on Thursday morning did the beautiful Baroque dome buckle; the church’s sandstone had expanded during the fire but shrank upon cooling, causing the supports to loosen.
Only one facade remained; call it, the “Kotel” of Dresden. (Bear in mind, this is an artistic analogy, not a claim of moral equivalence between Jewish Jerusalem and Nazi Germany.) People would visit Dresden’s “Kotel” while the ruins, under communist East Germany, turned into a “Denkmal,” a memorial to war. Roses grew out of the rubble.
Finally, in 1994, reconstruction of Dresden’s “Holy Temple” began with private funding, much from England, the country that had bombed Dresden’s Old Town to bits. Original stones were placed in their original setting, thanks to special architecture software (apparently developed by an Israeli). The Church would be a symbol of peace and reconciliation. The cross was designed by the son of an RAF bomber pilot and donated by Her Majesty.
Today, the Frauenkirche is a pilgrimage site. As a Dresden tour guide, I take people of all races and creeds through the door of this miraculous house of worship representing love triumphing over hate. Today, Dresden, the “Florence of the Elbe” is a free city. Signs barring Jews from its plaza – long gone. I wish I could say the same for Jerusalem.
At the Frauenkirche, I don’t have to undergo the restrictions that the Israeli government and Islamic Waqf place upon Jews as they enter the grounds of the Temple Mount during “Jewish opening hours.” I don’t have to walk through metal detectors. I don’t have to show my ID. Once inside, no one shoves (or sells) me a scarf to cover bare arms. No clergy preaches how I should or shouldn’t behave. No Israeli or Muslim police shadows me to make sure I, as a Jew, am not praying.
This might sound like a sacrilege to some, but Dresden’s “Holy Temple” could serve as a model for the Temple Mount and whatever Third Temple, as a symbol of peace, will stand there.
True to the vision of the prophets, it would be a place where people of all creeds and races could find inspiration and say their prayers. As a historically Jewish site, Judaism should be given priority representation, but other religions (and atheists) should feel welcome.
Even today, the Temple Mount has its own “basement,” the Temple “Tunnels,” operated by Israeli authorities, but one could visit them only through booking a guide. For starters, the “Tunnels” should be turned into private prayer/meditation spaces for the general public.
Today, intolerant and violent Islam dominates the Temple Mount such that the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque stand for Islamic supremacy and the type of mouth-frothing Jew-hatred that would make Hitler proud. For Israel to reach the level of peace that Dresden now enjoys, these domed symbols of hate may have to meet the same fate as the Frauenkirche in 1945, at the hands of those who love human freedom, human rights, and real justice and peace.