Jan. 24 – Outside David’s Tower, Old City, Jerusalem
Words can’t describe coming upon the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem for the first time. There was something powerful in the air around the yellow sun-soaked wall.
I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face and I sank to my knees, overcome.
In a daze, I could barely see from the fog of tears in my eyes. The thought of those thousands upon thousands of prayers, the millions of people that have visited, cried, pressed crumpled bits of papers in the crevices in the wall, touched me in a way I didn’t expect.
Maybe it was the result of all the prayers for redemption and salvation that had been prayed over the centuries, of all the faces that turned to the Wall in hopes Someone would hear. But hope, anguish and desperation seemed to hover over still, turning the it into a touchstone of heaven.
Outwardly, the scene was not so different from anything else you’d see in an Orthodox area in Israel.
Men in kippas and long black jackets, locks curling over their ears, opened their cellphones just a few seconds after leaving the wall.
Some did their prayers rocking back and forth, a meditative motion that accompanied the half-chanted words in the prayer book.
Some men prayed wordlessly, propped up with an arm above the head, leaning against the wall. Some had their forehead pressed on it, some kissing it just before they left, still facing the wall as they receded back to the public area.
Soldiers in baggy green uniforms came up to the wall in twos and threes. A mother with her little girl pressed both their hands against the wall. All around me, sincerity breathed.
Whoever these people were, whatever they may say or do when they walk about in their day-to-day lives, they appeared to be serious when it came to the wall.
There’s something about it that inspires respect, calls forth reverence, instills a sense of holy awe. You may pray ritually, but not idly.
I walked to the women’s side, the right-hand third of the wall. Interestingly, the women’s side was entirely in the shadow that late afternoon, while the men’s side was still washed in sunlight, with the line of shadow demarking an exact split between the two.
I passed by the free head-coverings and walked quickly by the few women calling out, “Please! Miss, have souvenirs!” and offering, ironically, bits of red string tied to a hand with the eye of Islam.
I waited my turn to approach while the line of sunlight above me slipped higher and the shadows grew longer. In front of me a group of girls, maybe just a little more than half my age, were mouthing the words quietly with prayer books in hand.
My turn came. I can’t say how long I stood there, forehead pressed against the cool stone, knees shaking from the cold, tears streaming once again, my mind quiet. It was the strangest prayer I’d ever prayed.
I asked God’s intervention in a place that so urgently needed the help — was I mad? — asking for something much bigger than I could imagine, for the peace of Jerusalem, for the peace of the Middle East and for all mankind.
The rest of the day, my photo-happy travelling companion Ingela and I walked and walked for hours around the Old City: Jewish Quarter, Christian Quarter, every corner we could get to was explored from rooftop to underground market.
It was almost midnight when we found ourselves at the Damascus Gate in the Muslim quarter, on the holiest night of the Christian year, watching the whole market being torn down and rebuilt for the next day.
Medieval, dark and dripping, every corner was lit by candles. It was oddly reminiscent of an underground cathedral.
Dozens of family members, cousins, aunts, nephews, flooded the narrow alleys to help box up the day’s refuse, sweep the stone steps and splash water to wash down their shops.
Little boys maneuvered three-wheeled wooden carts down the ramps by riding the rubber tire chained to the back, using it as a brake.
A cart full of massive animal bones was pushing its way slowly toward us, piled so high we almost couldn’t see the three young boys, straining and being careful not to let the whole thing slip and crash to the floor.
Small tractors roared, piled high with stacks of empty produce boxes, waiting to have carts hitched to them so they could roll out of the mess again, out of the glorious, chaotic, exhilarating, noisy, tumultuous mess and into the starlight night at the Damascus Gate of the Old City.
Over and out.