On our walk the second evening in Jerusalem, we ended up at the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. There are separate sections of the wall for men and women. The men’s section is much wider than the women’s. We were there around 9 p.m. and there were many Jews praying at the wall. As we walked up toward the wall, we passed a little plastic case full of paper headcoverings that men could use. They looked like the old-style french fry trays I remember from my younger days … and it was a tad disturbing when I realized that men were putting them back in the case when they left, making them available to someone else to use. Now, needless to say, all of the Jews who were praying at the wall were wearing their own headcoverings. We went ahead and put on our french fry trays as we approached the wall that evening although our tour guide told us the next evening that they really weren’t necessary – they are just tradition, like so many other things there (remember Fiddler on the Roof?)
We watched as many of those praying at the wall kept themselves in continuous movement. That is because there are 613 muscles and tendons and bones in the body, which matches the 613 laws they must follow as part of their faith. They keep their bodies moving to remind themselves of that. For Jews, the importance of praying at the wall is that, because Muslims are in control of the Temple Mount area, it is as close as they can come to worshipping at the holy site of the first and second temples.
I approached the wall (with my french fry tray on my head) that evening and prayed. Now, I have to admit, I felt fairly silly at first … I certainly didn’t look like I belonged there. My yarmulke (aka kippah) was not at all color-coordinated with my clothing and it stood out from the others’. I wasn’t about to try to figure out how to do all that moving and rocking and waving that most of the others were doing. I really didn’t know if I was supposed to touch the wall or not. There were lots of notes stuck into cracks in the wall that I was tempted to read but I suspect that would have been frowned upon. Anyway, feeling a bit silly, I approached the wall and began praying. I thanked God for bringing me there, I thanked Him for the experiences I’d had, I thanked Him for the wonderful folks I was traveling with, I thanked Him for His grace and love. I prayed for Lisa and Evan back home. I prayed that this trip would forever change me in ways that God wanted me to be changed. I backed away from the wall, still facing it, not sure if there was some protocol about turning your back to the wall but pretty sure, if there was, that I didn’t want to break it. I felt a little conspicuous that most people seemed to be there praying at the wall for hours at a time and I was there for maybe three minutes. Fortunately, I didn't run into anyone as I backed away.
Oy Vey! Maybe it was because of where we were or maybe it was a temporary lapse in faith on my part but, between fretting over the french fry tray (which was not very wind-resistant on my bald head – I was wondering if they sell double-sided tape in Israel), how to approach the wall, what to do there, what not to do there, and how to leave the wall, I felt like either a Jewish mother or Woody Allen (if there is indeed a difference).
But in all seriousness, as I stood at the wall and prayed and as I backed away from the wall (still facing it), I felt an incredible holiness. I knew that I was in a place that God loves. Being there with Jews from various sects, one thing that cannot escape you is how deeply they hold their faith. Fact is, as I watched the Jews and, yes, the Muslims, too (not at the wall, obviously), in Israel living out their faith, I developed an overwhelming sense of awe, admiration and inspiration. Their dress, customs, devoutness and prayer life are so unlike anything that most Christians do. I greatly admired their faithfulness in practicing their religion. Doesn’t our Lord and Savior, though, call us to the same degree of transformation when we accept him and begin living lives of authentic Christianity? Our dress may not change dramatically and we may not partake in their type of open religious customs and practices but, as we live out our faith, we are called to evangelism and witnessing which grow His Kingdom. We hopefully reach out as well as within, doing His work while growing our relationship with Him. I am not necessarily saying this of the Jews and Muslims we saw and met in Israel but, in general, I just don’t understand groups who practice their faith by either isolating themselves or getting mixed up in controversial extremism. I just don’t see the sense in that. I want to be outward-reaching with my faith, sharing what God has done in my life. If I am going to be extremist, I want it to be in that respect. If there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is that you catch flies with honey, not with vinegar and definitely not by ignoring them.
While we were at the wall, four young men approached us. Turns out they were rabbinical students from Brooklyn – probably all in their late teens or early twenties. A couple of them, because of their dress, looked a lot like Jake and Elwood. Anyway, we got to chatting about baseball and other things with them and they invited us to come back into a room to the left of the wall, to show us the Torahs, many of which are quite old, that are used for bar mitzvahs and other ceremonies at the wall. There are some desks and chairs for study in the room, as well as additional places to pray at the wall. As we were heading that way, I saw an older Jewish man approach one of the Brooklyn boys and ask him what they were doing. Our new friend said, “Well, we just met these guys, they’re from the states, and we’re making friends with them.” The older man asked “Are they Jewish?” and our friend said “I don’t know.” (He doesn’t know! With french fry trays on our heads, we hardly looked like Jewish!) Anyway, off of the room where they took us was a separate room where the Torahs are stored. They showed us one cabinet with Torahs in it but then another older gentleman started locking up all the cabinets ahead of us. (Me thinks they did not trust the tourists from Ohio with french fry trays on their heads!)
(Okay, this is sort of an abrupt ending but that's all I have for now.)