Praying at the Kotel

I arrived in Israel on Monday July 13 for my third summer at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. You know that this is something I look forward to - it's an opportunity to study, to breathe the air of Jerusalem, to refresh my spirit.

Yesterday was the first full day of the program and we had a few hours free in the afternoon. I decided to do some errands as I made my way to the Kotel (the Western Wall). I must confess that I don't find much meaning in the Kotel. That wasn't always the case though. I still remember walking into the Old City with my parents when I was 6 years old and seeing the Kotel for the first time. I certainly understand the historical significance of the Wall - it is the retaining wall for the Temple Mount, the only remnant from the Temple destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.

Though the Kotel has held a special place in the hearts of traditional Jews ever since, it doesn't do anything for me anymore. The space in front of the Kotel is divided like an Orthodox synagogue with separate prayer areas for men and women. Ultra Orthodox Jews are there to ensure that people approach the Wall in proper attire and hand out shawls and wraps for women and "kippot" for men. As a Conservative Jew who was involved in attempts to hold egalitarian services in the huge plaza near the Kotel, and heard insults from passing Orthodox Jews, the Kotel now instills in me trepidation and curiosity rather than deep, historical, spirituality.

However, I certainly understand how others can feel differently. For many the Kotel means proximity to God. It represents the holiest spot in Judaism - the closest we can get to the Temple - and it holds the promise of God answering prayers. Many people place notes in the crevices in the hope that God will respond.

With that in mind I went to the Kotel yesterday and placed two notes in the Wall. The first had names of members of our congregation who had recently fallen ill or have been in the hospital. One or two of them had specifically asked that I pray for them at the Kotel and I took the liberty of adding other names to the note. The other note had the names of 4 members of the Goff family. Yesterday was the 22nd of Tamuz - their yartzeit. I prayed that their souls achieve peace and that their memories provide blessing and comfort to Irma and Scott and the rest of their family.

In the end it was a very moving moment. I collected my thoughts and prayed the mincha (afternoon) service there. In the end I was glad that the iconic and historic significance of the Kotel allowed me to fulfill this religious mission for members of the shul. Even though I'm 6,000 miles away I was able to bring it home. May we all have the opportunity some day to experience the spirituality of Jerusalem.


  1. Your visit and video were very moving, Jonah. I hope that you have an enjoyable time at the Institute and come back home well refreshed!!


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