So, after Yad Vashem we continued our adventure by heading for the Western Wall, transliterated Hebrew it would be HaKotel HaMa’aravi, in real Hebrew it would be הַכֹּתֶל הַמַּעֲרָבִי. So, you want to know how to say that?
This sounds like it would be an easy thing, right? We have a light rail map, and we see on the light rail map to go to the Western Wall (please, do not call it the wailing wall) we should get off at the Damascus gate. Ok, that sounds easy enough. Off we go, visiting along the way, and I’m still processing thoughts and feelings from Vad Yashem. We get to the proper light rail stop and get off. Very shortly after we start walking Deb is saying disturbing things such as “This doesn’t look right” “I don’t remember it looking like this” I’m thinking it’s been here for a really long time, I don’t think it’s changed but since I’ve never been there, what do I know? I know that if Deb doesn’t think something is right, something isn’t right. We go up to a sort of half wall and look down into a courtyard. There I see a magnificent arched entry way with tons of tables set up lining the entrance to it. You walk through the tables on both sides to enter the arch and the building. At this point Deb says something along the lines of “Shucky Darn” we are in the Muslim section. I had noticed in the dusk we were some of the few that looked like “us”. At this point our “spidey senses” which had been tingling now went on full blown “change situation VERY soon”. We strolled up to a police hut stationed at the entry way to the promenade to discuss our next move. When we got up there the lone Israeli policeman went inside. Hmm. We discussed options. Option 1) take a cab out of there. Quickly discarded, we are NOT getting in a taxi from anywhere close to there. Option 2) I’m opposed to giving the light rail more money, they suggested we get off there. We consult the map, where we are vs. where we want to be. I point out Deb is a 5K runner, and I’ve got a good walking clip, we can hoof it out of there. Deb nixes that one with “we really do not walk to walk through this area on the way, plus it’s getting even later”. Good point. Option 3) reward the light rails idiotic idea to disembark at the Damascus gate by giving them more money and getting the heck out of there. That one wins. The light rail runs pretty often. We sauntered back over to the stop and waited the 1 hour and 45 minutes (ok, it seemed like it, was probably 5-10) until the next light rail showed up.
We went back to the Jewish side of things and fortified ourselves with Cafe HaFouk. Yes indeed, it can be the answer to many problems in life. While we were sitting there on our bar stools watching the traffic go by I noticed a shop across the street. “Money Changer”. Now growing up on the Bible “money changer” does not bring up feelings of confidence. I, like many probably had a harsh view of money changers. But the fact is, I have no money. Deb has had to foot the bill for everything, because all my money is American. This can not continue. So when I notice that there is a sign on the front window saying “no commission” I decide to give it a try. I walk in and politely wait for the man to finish counting and banding the money he is working on. I don’t spell well in English, I’m pretty sure I don’t transliterate well either, but I’ll give it a shot. Slea-ha? Anee rotza harbe kasif. Aval, ainle harbe kasif, yeshli ktzat kasif. What I said was “Excuse me? I would like a lot of money. But I don’t have a lot of money, I have a little money”. He smiled, “Kama?” How much? I turned over pretty much all my American money. He then counted out my new fortune be’schleem (in sheckles). He figured and gave me an exchange rate on a piece of paper, I showed Deb who said it was good.
We decided it was getting late enough we should just try for a taxi. We flagged down a cab, “HaKotel HaMa’aravi, bevakasha?” The Western Wall please? We hop in and off we go. He is a nice cabbie. The closer we get the streets become very narrow, we shoot through arches and it looks like some little shops are almost built into the sides of the arches. Traffic becomes stopped the closer we get. Deb asks the cabbie if the mount in the distance is the Mount of Olives, indeed it is. I am not surprised Deb knows this.
After traffic had been ground to a stop for a bit, the cabbie asks if we would like to get out and walk. The meter is running, and he has got us pretty close. We pay and tip him and strike off on foot. We look at the mount in the distance, we look at the gate sign in lovely ceramic tile “Jaffe Gate”.
We also notice there are IDF soldiers everywhere! We walk on to the Western Wall. There is a fence down the wall dividing it into two parts. A men’s section which is larger it seems, and a woman’s section. There are a lot of people there! Not just at the wall, there is a dais, with speakers, human not electronic though those are there as well. There seems to be some kind of ceremony going on. Tons of family gathered around the sides of the group of IDF in the center.
We watch for a few minutes and head on to the Wall. Deb stops to retrieve a prayer book off the bookshelf located near by. I just head on to the wall. I have to wait my turn, for someone who is at the wall to finish and leave. I’ve already written my list of names. Names of people I am asking G_d to bless, some I have an idea what to ask for, some, I just figure he knows. It’s finally my turn at the wall. I walk up and put my hands on the wall. I can’t believe the stone under my fingers, my palms, my forehead is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Temple courtyard. I just stood there, for a long time. I prayed for the people on my list, I prayed for groups of people, I prayed for Israel and America. I ask G_d to show me why I’m there. Why did he make it possible for me to come? I am well aware by all rights, there is no way I should have been able to come, so many things fell into place that allowed me to be here. I also don’t think G_d makes mistakes. I think I was there at that time for a reason, and I very much want to know what his will for me is that he has me there at that time. After I pray, I slip my piece of paper into the wall in a crack.
This is not as easy as it sounds. But I manage. I feel a plethora of emotions running through me as I stand there and look around. There is a doorway, up high off to my left. No stairs lead to it, at least not from the outside.
There are birds perched on stones sticking out of the wall above us, it’s as though they have decided to rest a while in the comfort of his presence.
Like those of us down below them. When I have finished my prayer time I go back to find Deb. We take pictures of each other with the wall in the background. While we are walking out I finally ask a young soldier what the ceremony is. He tells me it is a swearing of allegiance to the country and the IDF. They soldiers have finished their basic training, are swearing allegiance and will go on to serve in their units now. AHH, that explains all the family and camera flashes and speeches. Good deal, very cool to get to see this! We walk on to the street where we will find a bus to take us back to Beer Sheva. Finally one shows up that is going to Beer Sheva and home. We hop on and eventually set off. In a continuation of “adventure” the bus breaks down in Beer Sheva. Mind you, we are at least in the town, and not that far from the apartment. After about a 30 minute walk we reach home. We eat at home that night, and I take my evening coffee out to my palm tree (Etz Tamar). I called a friend back in the states to get more information on this swearing in business and to relay the days adventures. He explains that different branches are sworn in at different places. Paratroops are sworn in at the Kotel, Infantry is sworn in on the Golan Heights, the Armored Units are sworn in on Masada. I was sworn in on Masada (מצדה) I’m sure that he thought that whistling noise he heard was the wind as I sucked in air through my teeth. I squeaked out “You were sworn in on Metzada? What my mind was saying was “And you never thought to mention this?” We will cover more of this when we get to the Masada (מצדה) story. But yes indeed there are soldiers sworn in there.
Thoughts on the Western Wall. Jerusalem is a city that had been divided for years. When it was under Jordanian control until the Six day war in 1967 it was exclusionary to most faiths. That’s according to a former Jordanian Ambassador to the UN. In 1967, when Israel was attacked and fought back Jerusalem was united and for the first time in about 2000 years Jews (and Christians, and Muslims and ______) can go to the Western Wall and pray. I like this quote by Lt. Gen. Mordechai (Motta) Gur-
“For some two thousand years the Temple Mount was forbidden to the Jews. Until you came — you, the paratroopers — and returned it to the bosom of the nation. The Western Wall, for which every heart beats, is ours once again. Many Jews have taken their lives into their hands throughout our long history, in order to reach Jerusalem and live here. Endless words of longing have expressed the deep yearning for Jerusalem that beats within the Jewish heart..You have been given the great privilege of completing the circle, of returning to the nation its capital and its holy center…Jerusalem is yours forever.”
I pray for peace in Israel.
We all should.