A Report from Our Israel Correspondent : Shavuot (Pentecost), 1994
The trip to Jerusalem is as inspiring as any trip can be. The walk down from the Jaffa Gate is so timeless. From the Jaffa Gate you enter the shouk (market area) and begin a descent to the Kotel Ma’ariv, the Western Wall. Also called the Wailing Wall, it is highly revered because it is the last vestige of the ancient Temple. Up to that point, everything associated with the pilgrimage to Jerusalem itself is an ascent. You drive up mountains and walk up streets, but the final approach is a descent. You must go up before you can go down. There must be some spiritual metaphor or simile about all of this, but it escapes me.
Upon entering the narrow streets of the shouk your senses are flooded with sights, sounds and smells that have characterized Middle Eastern markets for centuries. There are the calls of the Moslem merchants who are trying to sell Jewish and Christian souvenir trinkets to tourists. It’s amazing. Articles celebrating the victories of Israel are being promoted by the vanquished. The shouk is a distraction from the spiritual purpose of the trip.
As you continue down the ancient path, your feet are walking on stones polished smooth by the feet of millions of other pilgrims before you. At some point along the descent, the sounds of the shouk fade into the distance. The momentum of the street begins to carry you further along. Like a stream of water that gains force as it winds its way down a mountainside, you, too, are drawn to the Western Wall. Barring the courtyard is a security gate with a metal detector, a reminder that tension in the Old City is high. This checkpoint serves as a dam to hold back the force of the human stream intent on reaching its destination. Past the security gate, the narrow street opens to wide stairs. Now the broadened stream of pilgrims gives the impression of a waterfall as it overflows the dam. A hundred steps lead to the courtyard of the Kotel.
On the day that we are there, several army units are also present. They are not there for reasons of additional security. They are young men and women who are drawn to the holy site as pilgrims in their own land.
The vastness of the courtyard draws our eyes to the sky and then back to the Kotel. The Wailing Wall, weeping with hyssop, dazzling in the mid-eastern sunlight, is so ancient and timeless. It evokes such powerful emotions. Pilgrims are overwhelmed with awe and devotion. Even unbelievers and skeptics must respond with sincerity.
As we come closer, men part from their wives, daughters separate from their fathers as each gender moves to its allotted side of the courtyard. We are physically separated by the strict Orthodox tradition of our fathers, yet we are united in the prayers of the ages.
As I stand with my face pressed against the ancient stone with my two sons beside me, it is an occasion for prayer. Our prayers are different from those of my fellow countrymen. I pray for the Prince of Peace, Y’shua, to be revealed to the rest of my people. I pray that my presence in Israel will make a difference. Off to our right stands a Christian visitor, eyes closed in prayer. To our left, an old Hassidic man fervently clutches his prayer book, and his lips move rapidly in the ritual morning prayers he knows so well. Our time of devotion is suddenly interrupted by a man who offers to take a picture of me and the boys—for the right price, of course. Even in Israel it is hard to be left alone in quiet devotion without being jolted back to the present.
Leaving the Kotel, I rejoin my wife, and we all venture to another section of the Old City. There another checkpoint separates the Jewish Quarter from the Moslem Quarter. This place is in the shade, and we take a water break.
The level of tension between the Israelis and Arabs is highlighted by an Israeli civilian who is carrying an Uzi submachine gun. As he prepares to cross into the Moslem Quarter, the harsh click of a full ammunition clip inserted into his weapon punctuates the moment. This is Old City, Jerusalem, 1994. The very next day a Jewish Yeshiva student will be stabbed in the back as he walks by the Damascus Gate.
Still the Western Wall in the Old City remains a focal point of Jewish worship and devotion. So much attention bestowed upon this ancient site endows it with an aura of holiness. But only God makes something holy by His everlasting presence.