This is a guest blog from Rahna Barthelmess, Director of Marketing for Jewish Federation of St. Louis
After a full day of touring other sites throughout Jerusalem, some of my colleagues decided to take me to the Western Wall. It was an impromptu idea for an after dinner activity. One of the women carried notes from her children to put in the famous niches in the Wall, so we decided to get that done.
It was quite an experience.
Jerusalem is considered a holy place by Christians, Muslims and Jews alike, and the Western Wall attracts people with a wide variety of religious beliefs, from the mildly-interested atheist onlooker to the ultra-Orthodox fervently praying…and everything in between.
Even if you don’t believe that this is the place where you are closest to God, it is an impressive architectural wonder. The Art History major in me is fascinated with its human history, but I also respect that this is a place where so many come to commune with God and feel a holy presence.
While I’m not Jewish, I was curious about the types of prayers one might find in the many notes in all the tiny crevices. My friend showed me a sweet and humble prayer from one of her children that read, “Please give my family good health, happiness and love. Thank you.” How lovely and innocent and God-like, just as a prayer should be, I thought.
It’s an overwhelming scene (even at 10:30 at night when we went!). As women, my colleague and I were directed to approach the Wall on the right. I had never experienced this type of segregation before, and it felt unnatural.
Because she is particularly observant, she wanted to cover her head but had forgotten a shawl. So she borrowed a pink scarf I carried in my purse. Not quite traditional, but it served its purpose well enough.
There was a table of prayer books on the side. She found the one she wanted that had been left by a previous visitor. The inscription inside the front cover read, “Dear Friends, Please use this freely and may all your prayers be answered and soar to the highest heavens.” Just another lovely example of one Jewish people…
I didn’t expect there to be chairs there, but I was told that some people stay for hours to pray. Although my colleague told me that it wasn’t very crowded, she still had to push through to find a spot to pray. Up close, the massive stones make the Wall seem even more solid, more enduring, more permanent than a mountain face would feel and yet I thought there was such contrast between the solidity of the rough Jerusalem stone and the hands that touched that sacred stone so lightly, so reverently.
The Wall can also be a source of contention, too. I understand the complexities associated with this most controversial site, from the spiritual battle over the Temple Mount and its importance to both Muslims and Jews, to the political and religious fight for women’s rights within the Israeli Jewish community governed by the Rabbinic Court.
But that night, it was a place for me to see the loving gesture of a mother delivering her children’s simple prayers and having her own private conversation with God.
May you all have a chance to visit this most amazing place someday and may you all have “good health, happiness and love” in your lives.