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Saturday, March 12, 2011

OUR WESTERN WALL--A GREAT MOMENT


Western Wall & Dome of the Rock
The Western Wall with the Dome of the Rock in the background

Old Jerusalem and the Western Wall. A singular ancient reminder and a singular modern symbol. When the Romans destroyed the second Temple in 70 BC in massive retaliation against the upstart Jews, they sought to totally erase everything important to Jews from the land. This one wall was left probably because it was deemed an unimportant outer wall on the western side of the Mt. Moriah, the Temple Mount. Nevertheless, this vestige of the Second Temple is the holiest site of Judaism. This is the first Margaret Morse Tour stop of our day.

From 1948 until 1967, despite a Jordanian promise to allow Jews to visit the Kotel (literally the “wall” in Hebrew), NO JEWS ALLOWED. One of the first to reach the re-captured Kotel during the 1967 Six Day War was Defense Minister Moshe Dayan who inserted a written prayer in the cracks. That prayer was that a lasting peace “descends on the House of Israel.” Today people, many tearful with emotion, slip their written prayers in the cracks of this great stone wall. I am among these people, and I doubt if ever my prayers were quite as heartfelt as they are in this supremely holy place.
Wendy's Hand
I touch history and add my prayers to others
The Western Wall, Jerusalem
I approach in my light blue hat

crying after praying
As I leave with my friend, Riva, I wipe away a tear of emotion
Those photos are a bit ahead of my story.  Today one passes through security to reach the Kotel, and on the wall is a mezuzah containing the shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is One.”

Mezuzah

Before we have an opportunity to spend time at the wall, David, our Margaret Morse guide takes us through the Heritage Exhibit where we graphically see how Herod had the Temple constructed.

Second Temple model
David added to this model piece by piece so we could better understand the construction before we actually entered the tunnel in the lighted distance
King Herod began construction of the Second Temple in 19 BCE. He wanted an enormous Temple so the one million pilgrims who, in those ancient times, came three times a year, Succoth, Shavuot, and Pesach, to pray and sacrifice could be accommodated. He flattened the top of Mt. Moriah to enlarge the space where he built a huge and magnificent structure. This particular piece of ground is very important. Solomon’s Temple, the First Temple, stood here. The Holy of Holies in which the Ark of the Covenant remained was here. It is believed that Abraham brought Isaac here to be sacrificed, although Muslims believe that took place in Mecca. To Muslims, who built the Dome of the Rock on this site of the destroyed Temple, this spot marks where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to Heaven. According to the Oxford Archaeological Guide to the Holy Land, Abd al-Malik (the builder of the Dome of the Rock) wanted ”a symbolic statement…of the superiority of the new faith of Islam.” Near the Dome of the Rock is the Al-Aqsa Mosque with its distinctive black dome.

We can only begin to comprehend the magnitude of this structure, done with ancient tools. It is with awe that we look at Herodian stone, stone with a frame carved into it.

Herodian Stone
Notice the chisled frame around the stone.  This is called Herodian stone.
After he explains the construction, we enter the excavated tunnel that runs alongside the wall.

As huge as the exposed wall is, most of its nearly 1,700 foot length lies below ground. Archeologists sought to excavate under the wall to determine its length. This long process, begun in the 1800s, was further complicated by residences built up against the wall, some of which used the area for sewage disposal. Eventually, 2000 years of civilization were uncovered, and we have the opportunity to walk through the tunnel and once again travel back in time to experience, in some small way, those ancient times. We walk over a glassed area where we can look down and see how much deeper the wall goes. We see original columns of stone. As we walk on the original walk, I realize that I follow the footsteps of great leaders like Hillel and Jesus. The feeling reaches deep into my soul.

Deep in the ground in the tunnel along the wall is a chapel for women. It is suggested that this spot where women come daily to pray would have been under and opposite the basement of the Temple. They do not heed us as we pass by; the prayers continue unabated. The excavation of the tunnel is about 750 feet long, and the wall itself is about 1,700 feet long.

Western Wall's Tunnel & women's chapel

Outside we gaze at the Wall before we enter the enclosure. The Kotel is huge—over 180 feet long and more than 60 feet high. The wall built by Herod uses no cement. The process was dry mortar. The stones are huge. Our wonderful guide, David, explained that the stones weigh more than a fully loaded 747 plane. Archeologists do not know how the quarried stone was brought here.

As customary, the men enter on one side of the wall and the women enter from another side. They do not mingle. I met women of other faiths there putting their prayers in the wall as well. That is the thing about Jerusalem. Christians and Jews visit each other’s sites, always with respect and interest.

The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Today is Thursday, the ancient market day. As Thursday was the gathering day for people, it was also the day for Bar Mitzvahs. That custom continues in this place as Jews come from around the world celebrate that special rite. Incredibly to me, however, is that the women—the mothers—must peer over the separating barrier in order to see their sons bar mitzvahed.

The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Ark at The Western Wall, Jerusalem

Careful, supervised excavation continues to be done by archeologists who have not nearly exhausted this treasure trove of antiquity, and we as we leave, we see places where the work continues and ancient walkways are uncovered.

Western Wall
In this site of further careful excavation, notice the stone walkway.  Imagine who walked there.
But Margaret Morse had even more plans for this beautiful day.


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