For Jews the most holy site in Jerusalem, and in the world is the Western Wall. Also referred to as the “Wailing Wall”, today it refers to a nearly 200 foot section of an exposed ancient wall once part of The Second Temple dating back to the 19th Century BC. The exposed section of this wall rises about 60 feet above a plaza dedicated to prayer. As a sign of respect, visitors entering the plaza, regardless of religious preference, must don a head cover. Volunteers happily provide small cardboard yamikas for those not prepared.
Wailing wall refers to pilgrimage of people who come here to weep the destruction of the Second Temple.
According to Jewish teachings, the Western Wall was built by King David and that today’s wall is actually built on top the foundation of the first Temple. It also states that God promised the Wall will never be destroyed. Jewish teachings declare when Vespasian, the Roman Emperor called for the destruction of the Temple, he ordered Pangar, the Duke of Arabia, to destroy the Western Wall. Pangar pained himself and just couldn’t destroy it because of God’s will that the Wall would never be destroyed. When asked by Titus why he didn’t destroy it, Pangar boldly declared that its existence would stand as a reminder of what Titus conquered. Titus ordered him executed immediately. In Jewish lore here is a prophecy that states when water begins to trickle through the stones of the Wall, it is a signal of the coming of the Messiah.
I noted that a meter high fence separated two prayer areas in the plaza adjacent to the wall. One for women and the other for men. The wall extends into a building where books line the walls and intimate cubbies are provided for group prayer readings. I wandered through here watching people cry and burrow their heads into the wall. When leaving the sacred area, they walk backward never taking their eye off the wall.
The Wall itself is not only important to Jews because of its relationship to the First Temple. But it also represents one of the four sides of the Temple Mount which atop it sits one of the most holy places in Islam, the al-Aqsa mosque and it’s signature gold Dome that commands much of the “skyline” of the Old Town and the Dome of the Rock, the oldest Islamic structure in the world.
It was here that according to Jewish Midrash that after God created the world he rest and where, according to the Old Testament, God gathered the dust that he used to create Adam and Eve. The first two temples were built here and today there are plans, amid controversy, to build what they hope will be the third and final Temple.
But both Israeli and Palestinian authorities claim sovereignty over the site. And deeply rooted and old as the wall, this conflict drives the wedge between the Western and Middle Eastern Worlds. Though, in 1967 Israel did appoint a Muslim council to manage the site.
While these images and the tidbits of history nestle deep in my memory, walking through Old Jerusalem brings history, the people and the places alive–making it real and in my face. I knew the importance of this wall, but until you see the orthodox jews deep in prayer along side the Manhattan advertising executive who after praying while bobbing his head up and down in a kinetic if not like an epileptic fit, asked me to take his photo next to the wall, nothing seems real.
Quietly I watched the men and women in prayer and asking if appropriate to shoot some pictures, I was given a nod of okay by a Rabbi wondering the plaza. Like the Christians kissing and praying at the tomb of Jesus, the Jews kiss the wall and pray. While above Muslims gather in the Dome of the Rock and bow toward Mecca while firmly pressing their foreheads onto the prayer carpets laid out for the loyal.
It’s all here. Old Town Jerusalem.