Described as the Holy of Holies from which the Divine Presence never moves, the Western Wall in Jerusalem was high on my list of places to see in the city. I’d been warned by a Hungarian to take extra care when composing my letter to God as whatever I asked for would be granted. And for the days leading up to the visit, this ask played on my mind.
A holy place of prayer for Jews for centuries, in December 1947, after some bloody incidents with the Arabs, they were no longer allowed to approach the Wall. When the Jewish Quarter of the Old City fell in May 1948, it would be another 9 years before they could even look at the wall from a distance. It wasn’t until the third day of the Six-Day war (7 June 1967) that Israel’s parachutists broke through the ‘bloody gate’ which the mufti had opened and liberated the wall. Later buildings were levelled and an area cleared in front of the wall for praying. I can’t quite figure out what the rocking is about – that back and forth movement of the upper body – but add it to the singing and I finally get why it has been known for aeons as the wailing wall.
Today, men and women are segregated, each having their own side of the wall at which to pray. The touch of millions of hands and foreheads has polished the stone in places and no two pieces look alike. Every crack and fissure in the wall up to human height is home to pieces of paper containing the prayers of the faithful, a living testimony to faith, hope, and belief.
Nearby, sits the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. Destroyed twice by earthquakes, once in 746 and again in 1033, and damaged severely in the quakes of 1927 and 1937, the building is still as imposing as ever. Said to be the point from which Muhammad travelled to from Mecca and whence he departed for heaven.
In the distance sits the Golden Dome, considered ‘the most contested piece of real estate’ in the world. I think though that that refers to the foundation stone it houses rather than the dome itself… but I’ve been known to be wrong. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all view it as significant – which, in my little mind, would go some way towards confirming what I’ve always believed – there is one God who goes by different names.
This week, as the memories of my trip to the Holy Land remain bright and clear, I’m grateful for my bucket list – for that innate curiosity that makes me want to pack a bag and travel. And I’m even more grateful that I have the wherewithal to do so.