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Wailing at The Wall in Jerusalem

Placing Notes in the Wailing Wall

Placing Notes in the Wailing Wall

The Western Wall, Wailing Wall or Kotel, is found in Jerusalem’s Old City, at the disputed western side of the ancient Temple Mount site. It is a remnant of the buttress of the ancient wall which once surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard. For this, it is one of the most sacred sites in Judaism, that is, beside for the Temple Mount itself. More than half the wall, including the seventeen paths found underneath the ancient street level, dates from the later era of the Second Temple. It was built around 19 B.C. by King Herod the Great. The layers that remained were added from the seventh century on wards. Not only does the name, Western Wall, refer to the exposed section facing a large plaza in the Jewish Quarter, but also to the concealed sections behind the structures running along the whole length of the Temple Mount.

For centuries, the Wailing Wall has been the site of Jewish pilgrimage and prayer. The earliest source mentioning Jewish attachment to the site dating from the 4th century. From the middle of the 19th century and on wards, efforts to buy the wall and its immediate area were made several times by various wealthy Jews and Jewish organizations, although, alas none were actually successful.

Then, in the early 20th-century, with the rise of the modern Zionist movement, the wall turned into a source of friction for the Jewish community and the religious Muslim leadership, who were concerned that the wall was being used to further the push for Jewish nationalism to the Temple Mount and to Jerusalem. As a sad result of these Muslim concerns about Jewish statehood, outbreaks of violence at the foot of the wall were commonplace and an international commission convened in the year 1930 to determine the claims and the rights of Jews and Muslims in connection with the wall. Then, after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War the wall fell under Jordanian control and Jews were barred from the site for nineteen tragic years until Israel captured the Old City in 1967, when provoked by rocket and missile attacks by the Jordanian army.

Certainly there are ancient Jewish texts that seem to refer to a “western wall of the Temple”, however there is much doubt whether these texts were referring to today’s Western Wall or to another wall that stood within the Temple complex. The earliest use of the term Western Wall in terms of the wall that is actually visible today was by the 11th-century Ahimaaz ben Paltiel. The name “Wailing Wall”, and certain descriptions such as “wailing place” appeared in English literature during the 19th century. It was known as Mur des Lamentations in French and Klagemauer in German. The term itself was actually a translation of the Arabic term, el-Mabka, or “Place of Weeping.”

The Kotel: My Personal Reflections

With Jerusalem Day being on Monday, June 2nd, I thought it would be nice to pay a visit to the Holy City, especially to what is known as Ha’Kotel Ha’Ma’a’ravi — or the Western Wall to non-Hebrew speakers. Accompanied by my wife and my mother-in-law, we set out for Jerusalem on Tuesday, a week before the annual commemoration of Jerusalem’s liberation was to take place.

Paratroopers at the Western WallMy mother-in-law, who with the rest of her family had been expelled from Egypt following the 1956 Sinai Campaign, is getting up in years and wanted to visit the Kotel, perhaps for one last time while still on this material earth. Although it was midday when we arrived at the Dung Gate, the Western Wall Plaza’s main entrance, a large number of people, both tourists and locals, were milling about in the large open plaza where persons of both sexes can be together before going to pray at either the men’s or women’s areas in front of the Kotel itself.

We had prepared some small notes to place in The Wall along with the many others that are placed between those ancient stones daily. The notes were for members of my own immediate family who had been ill or in accidents, etc. As I approached The Wall, I was overcome by a profound feeling of awe that I always feel when visiting what is considered to be the most sacred spot in Judaism. As I inserted my notes in the cracks between the stones quarried during the reign of either the Hasmonean kings or King Herod the Great, I could not help being sad, because this “Wailing Wall”, as it has been known by Jews for centuries, is the only remnant of what was said to have been the most magnificent piece of architecture ever built by King Solomon nearly three thousand years ago, i.e., the Temple. Being a Freemason, this fact made my visit even more profound as the Brotherhood of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons was founded on the concept of the Temple being built by Israel’s greatest King. For as it is noted in the Biblical Old Testament: “He will build me a House, and I will sanctify his kingdom for ever”.

Upon leaving this holy shrine, from which tradition says one must walk backwards as not to defile the sanctify of the place, I looked up and caught a glimpse of the golden dome of the Mosque of Omar, otherwise known as the Dome of the Rock. This mosque, along with the Al Aqsa Mosque, occupies that piece of real estate known by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as Hareem al Sharif. With all the discussions still going on concerning the future of Jerusalem, especially the Old City and the Temple Mount, I wondered, like many people do, why the Muslims are making such a big deal concerning their desire to have back the eastern part of the city, including the very spot I was standing on — Judaism’s holiest shrine. After all, the Muslims presently have jurisdiction over the entire Temple Mount, which has been a part of Israeli rule ever since the re-unification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War.

Then I looked over at the Jewish Quarter which faces the Plaza as well as the Temple Mount, noticing some construction of Yeshivot (Rabbi training centers) and other structures. The Jewish Quarter would be a definite place of contention should some future agreement ever be reached with the Palestinians, as well as with the 1.2 billion representatives of the Islamic World, which is roughly 1 out of every 5 members of the Human Race.

Upon leaving the Plaza, I pondered the fate of this area which has been in Jewish prayers since the destruction of the Second Temple by Roman Legions in the 1st Century CE. Millions of Jews, including intensely religious ones, were denied access to the Kotel over the centuries; but now, it is readily available to all. Yet, many Israelis, including some government officials, are still prepared to negotiate the symbol which is central to Jewish faith; and that symbol being the last vestige of the Temple originally built by King Solomon, with Almighty God’s instructions.

Before we left the Kotel plaza, my mind recalled that classic photograph — by Israel’s icon photographer David Rubinger — of the three young IDF paratrooper soldiers standing in awe before the Kotel, moments after the area had fallen into Israeli hands. Being ever denied again from freely accessing the Wall is a terrible thought. For if Judaism is once again without our holiest symbol, it will not be the same. And this fact must be understood by all – including our adversaries.

Photograph: David Rubinger/HO/AP

Jerusalem Like it Was

Kotel Jerusalem 2007It is said in Jewish tradition that there are three important times to visit the city of Jerusalem during the course of a year. These times are during the High Holidays, especially during Sukkoth; during the Passover Holiday, and during Shavuot. At the end of the Sukkoth festival, my wife and I, along with another couple, made a pilgrimage to the Holy City which included visiting a number of sites in and around the Old City. What made this event additionally interesting it that it occurred during the Christian Feast of the Tabernacles, as well as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Though I have been to Jerusalem on several occasions during the past few years, there were some places, especially in East Jerusalem, that I had not personally visited since before the occurrence of what became known as the First Intifada, in September, 1987. Despite the current political and security situation, we felt as if we had gone back in time and were visiting the city as it was during an earlier time when such visits were more possible.

We began our tour with some Christian holy sites on the Mount of Olives, including the Chapel of St. Peter, and the Basilica of the Agony, otherwise known as the Church of All Nations. Both of these sites, located on the Mt. of Olives have rich religious and historical meaning to the Christian World, including the Garden of Gethsemane; where Jesus and his disciples slept and where he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Some of the olive trees in both this garden and on the grounds of the basilica are more than two thousand years old. I was impressed by the size and appearance of the olives, which didn’t appear to have any blemishes; not like the olive trees growing where we live in Netanya. The basilica itself was very impressive and we happened to encounter a group of visiting pilgrims from Mexico who were engaged in a special prayer ceremony including baroque guitar music by one of the pilgrims. We toured also parts of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount, some of which is still in disrepair following the period from 1948 to 1967 when this part of Jerusalem was occupied by the Jordanian Army. One small triangular shaped section was so neglected that most of the graves were unreadable; and only a few had been partially restored by either the Hevra Kadisha burial society or by descendants of the deceased who were buried there. We also visited the lookout point in front of was once the Intercontinental Hotel, giving one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the Old City; a place I had not personally been to since 1987.

Going into the Old City, we visited the Kotel, or Western Wall, Judaism’s most holy site. Being there on the last day of Sukkoth, or Simchat Torah, I was able to participate in one the many “Hakafot” or dancing with the Torah scrolls in front of Kotel, which made our visit even more meaningful. We were impressed by the number of foreign groups present at both the Kotel and in the oriental “Shuk ” market in the Old City. We noted groups from Russia, Germany, Italy, France, and other countries as well.

Finding businesses in the Jewish Quarter closed for the holiday, we ate a modest lunch in an Armenian restaurant near the Jaffa Gate; and afterwards visited King David’s Tomb and an interesting place known as The President’s Room, located on the roof of the synagogue where the tomb is located on Mt. Zion. The President’s room was used by Israeli President Zalman Shazar who used to go there to view parts of the Old City, including the Temple Mount, when it was still under the control of the Jordanians prior to the June 6, 1967 Six Day War.

The last place we visited was Mary’s Church and the grotto where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is said to be “sleeping”. Christian legend says that she will ‘awaken’ when her son returns to rule over mankind again. There is also a less known spot nearby where the Israeli Haganah forces tried to blow an opening in the Old City wall during the siege of Jerusalem in 1948. Despite using more then 200 kilograms of explosives, all they managed to do was to make a small dent in more than six foot thick city wall.

We were all impressed by the seeming peaceful atmosphere of the entire area, including the Shuk, which was crowded with tourists and pilgrims and virtually every shop was open; a far cry from previous years, especially after the Second Intifada uprising in September, 2000. With so many religious holidays and festivals occurring concurrently, including Ramadan, it was lovely to see the Old City in such a splendor.

The question we all had upon leaving is how long this seeming tranquility will last, taking future events, including the proposed international summit in America into consideration, not to mention demands by the Palestinians and others unfriendly to Israel. For those who live in Jerusalem, especially in and near the Old City, most residents would like to see what we saw on Thursday to be like this every day. And why not – isn’t it better to have peaceful coexistence rather than armed conflict?

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