The Western Wall – the ancient limestone wall in Jerusalem’s Old City which once supported the sacred Second Temple – is the holiest place on earth for the Jewish people.
The Wall and the wide plaza in front of it bustle with life 24 hours a day. It is the spiritual heart of the Old City of Jerusalem with the dense Arab souk seemingly all around and the glistening iconic golden cap of the holy Muslim Dome of the Rock peering over it. There, like troublesome siblings, these mighty symbols of two great religions lie side by side but still seemingly poles apart.
Covering my head with a kippah, I walk up and lay a hand against the immense stones of the wall, glass-smooth from millions of other hands doing exactly the same thing. Scraps of paper scrawled with messages of hope and prayer are crammed into every reachable crack, a tradition spanning over 300 years and a poignant reminder of just how important these ancient Jerusalem stones are to Jews the world over.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, Rabbi of the Western Wall, has the responsibility of managing this paper mountain. The notes are removed from the crevices twice a year, once before Passover in spring and again before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, in late autumn and respectfully buried in the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.
Each year Rabbi Rabinovitch also receives hundreds of letters simply addressed to “God, Jerusalem”; these too are folded and placed between the mighty stones. In July 2008 Barack Obama left a handwritten prayer note which was taken by a student and sold to an Israeli newspaper, provoking a global outcry.
I know it is impossible, but as I lay my hands flat against the centuries-old stones pressing my own handwritten note into a worn crevice, I feel something; a frisson; perhaps a rhythm from the past, or perhaps just the spirits of millions of others who have been here before me.
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