We were right around the corner from the Western Wall, otherwise known as the Wailing Wall. This wall is the holiest place in the world for many people but specifically the Jewish. Just to give a little background on what the wall is exactly…in about 957 BCE, King Solomon built the first temple which was massive and used mainly for sacrifice and prayer. Some 400 years later it was destroyed by Babylonians and then about 70 years later a second temple was built on the same site and sacrifice again was a major theme for this temple. During the first century, Herod greatly expanded the temple which was then destroyed again but this time by the Romans (70 CE).
The most important room that was in the temple was what they call the Holy of Holies (Kodesh Kodashim) it held the two tablets of the 10 commandments. In that second temple, the small bare room was only visited once per year by the highest priest (Yom Kippur) who would pray to God on Israel’s behalf. The Western Wall which we are looking at today is the only remaining wall from that temple (the Romans had destroyed everything else). It was actually the wall that surrounded the temple mount.
Now, over the centuries the Muslims controlled Palestine and two mosques were built right on top of the site of the second temple. So, you can see the massive western wall with people praying and crying as they touch the wall and feel the closest to their God but right above is the “Dome of the Rock” a massive Muslim mosque built-in 691 CE…it is the third most holy place in Islam. It was specifically built right on top of the second temple as it is a common Islamic custom to build mosques on the site of other people’s holy places. If there were to be any attempt to level the mosques in order to re-build that second temple, there would be an international Muslim holy war. We actually attempted to try to visit the mosque but were told it was closed and we were not permitted even though it was during the day…we were told it is a difficult place to visit for non-Muslims.
I know…that was kind of a long history lesson but it is so important to know the background and significance of where we are standing. When looking at the Western Wall, there are two separate entrances to walk up to the wall. One is for men only and the other for women only. Women must be covered (no bare shoulders) and men must have something on their head (any type of hat). Candice and I went up to the wall and watched so many people saying their prayers. It is traditional to write down your prayer on a piece of paper which is then folded and stuck into the cracks of the wall to be answered. It is also respectful to never turn your back on the wall which is why Candice and I and so many other people walked backwards when leaving the wall. Ayal and Giff also went to the wall through the men’s entrance where they too watched so many people saying their prayers…some holding the Torah.
There were many people in the big open area near the wall but specifically hundreds of military troops. There was a graduation ceremony for the troops coming up and this was the practice. However it was a bit alarming for those of us who did not understand Hebrew and saw uniformed men carrying machine guns!! Giff was just a bit concerned, ok he was totally freaked out. He was walking around taking pictures of all the guns that were everywhere we looked. Ayal tried making us feel more comfortable by saying the guns weren’t loaded but Giff pointed to bullets attached to one of the soldiers.
Feeling tired, we went home for a quick nap before coming back to the wall for our underground tunnel tour. The tour was about an hour and guided us through what was an archeological dig site now open to the public. A long piece of the Western Wall was disclosed down there…it had distinct layers where different societies and rulers had built on top of the old temple. The largest stone in the wall was one solid piece…45 ft long, about 15 ft deep and 15 ft high…it weighs more than a million pounds ( more than a 747 jet). How in the world did they manage to move it back then?
After our tour, we went to a late dinner at a casual restaurant where we ordered big salads and an eggplant appetizer (eggplant is a staple in the Israeli diet). All the exposure to various religions today sparked our own conversation amongst each other about religion, stories and beliefs.
Although it may seem from afar like everyone is always fighting over this holy ground, one can actually start to appreciate how many different religions are literally living right on top of each other in a relatively small space.