Monday, February 28, 2011

The Western Wall

February 27, 2011

Sunday, Day 7 (Friday, Saturday and Monday will follow as soon as I can write about them, but I just had to share this experience, which I wrote about right away.)

 By Belinda

We passed through a turnstile and metal detectors, while our cameras and bags were passed through an opening to our left. They were picked up and weighed manually by security personnel before being given back to us.

Waiting in line to go through the security check a young woman, also carrying a camera warned me, “Don’t take photos of the Jewish people. They will get angry and they’ll smash your camera.”

I thought back to a couple of days prior, when on our way out of the market in old Jerusalem, fascinated by the beauty of the people and children, I had pointed my camera lens in the direction of an elderly Arab couple, sitting cross legged on the ground against a wall; the man wearing a red keffiyeh; an Arab headdress; selling herbs. 

In the instant that I raised my camera, the old woman had reacted with vehement anger, yelling something that needed no translation for me to understand, and at the same time reaching for a shoe from beneath some folds of clothing. I had the feeling that the shoe came out whenever foreign tourists tried to photograph them. I instantly erased the photo of the threatening gesture from my camera, sorry that I had been invasive of their privacy. I determined to be more sensitive in future.

Now we were on our way to the Western Wall, known in the past as the Wailing Wall; the holiest site to the Jews, as the Western Wall is the closest to the temple site. It is also a place of worship for all Christian denominations, so certainly a place to be deeply respectful. (In fact, my experience with the elderly couple was not repeated and no one seemed to mind being photographed, although I did so carefully and sensitively, and no one even hinted that they wanted to smash my camera.)

Once through security, we entered a large open square surrounded by ancient walls, bathed in warm spring sunshine. Thousands of people milled around in groups: Orthodox Jews, adults and children, clearly identifiable by the black coats and hats of the men, the head coverings of the women and the prayer tassels on the hems of the boy’s shirts; young Israeli men and women in military uniform, there for part of their education in the military, in which they must serve for three years; Christians of all kinds—Eastern Orthodox; Catholic; evangelicals of all denominations and nations.

To our right a fair distance away was the Western Wall, at its base, people praying, hundreds of people praying. Men and women were separated by a fence, the men on the left and the women to the right so as not to distract the men from prayer, but side by side, Christians prayed with Jews.

We arranged a time and place to meet later and then each of us made our own way to the wall, and I am sure each had a deeply significant personal experience.

On the outer edges of the area close to the wall, conversations hushed to a murmur. I saw people writing on scraps of paper: names; needs; pouring out their hearts to God in written words which they folded into tiny pieces to press into the cracks where plaster meets stone on the wall.

There were women of all ages. I noticed three young women, one using the backpack of another to lean against to write.

Three older women, brightly dressed; their arms entwined around one another’s shoulders--an image that spoke of a bond of deep friendship.

I didn’t take any scraps of paper to press into the wall. I know that God’s ear is just as close as my lips, but I did want to get as close to the wall as I could; to touch it and to pray there.

A space opened up beside a young woman dressed in black, an obviously observant Jewess. She was pressed against the wall, as though she wanted her heart to be right next to it. I knew then that was what I wanted to do more than anything else. I touched the smooth, cool, sand coloured stones, thousands of years old; and I pressed in until my body was against the wall, my face turned to the right, the palms of both hands pressed against it...and the tears that had fallen twice already in Israel, streamed again as I prayed thanksgiving for knowing this God: God Almighty, and for the fact that I belonged to him; the One who was the fulfilment of all that the temple represented. It was an utterly holy moment.

We left our places at the wall as reverently as we had approached it, wiping away tears and walking slowly backwards, so as not to turn our backs on the wall, and as we did, our places were filled by other worshippers.

As we rejoined the throngs of people in the space a little distance away, the air was alive with conversations in many languages and one man in a Jewish hat called a yarmulke, stood alone, calling to the crowds in Hebrew, and then in English, “Call on Yeshuah, call on the Name of the Lord,” seeming to be both tolerated and ignored by the crowds walking in all directions around him.

As I passed him our eyes met and I said, “Amen.”

He answered, “Thank you.”

3 comments:

Laura J. Davis said...

Thank you for sharing this Belinda. Beautiful post!

Dave Hingsburger said...

What a trip you've had. It sounds remarkable and powerful. I've always wanted to visit the wall, and now I feel I have.

Belinda said...

Thank you, Laura and Dave. We just arrived home this morning, and I have still more to share...a little later. I am so glad that the blessing of this trip could be spread to others. I said to Susan this morning that I feel as though we were given gift upon gift upon gift in this trip. On so many levels I have been deeply touched. I hope I can share it adequately.