Places to visit before you die: Jerusalem – The Wailing Wall

Israel, Jerusalem, then 10 months on the road on my trip around the world. As I stroll through the narrow streets of Jerusalem's Old City, I don't yet know that I'm about to encounter one of the most spectacular places of my trip and experience one of the most emotional moments of the year. There are pleasant temperatures, cloudless blue sky – the sun is shining. In the streets some Jewish groups are celebrating with drum music and loud singing, probably it is the Bar Mitzvah, of which I heard already more often in the past days. The day when boys and girls become religiously mature. Two drummers lead a group and with loud singing, balloons and joyful cheering is celebrated. This looks like a lot of fun. I take a few photos, but the group of 20 people is not bothered by them. Slowly they turn into a side street. The sound of the bongos can be heard for quite a while and only fades away minutes later.

The smell of Shawarma spreads in the air and makes it impossible to resist the temptation to buy the delicious Arabic meat dish right away. I make myself uncomfortable on a stone to devote myself fully to the pita-like flat dish. The entire old town is made of stone, old beige sandy stone. It gives Jerusalem the visual impression we as visitors expect from it, historical, old, biblical, tough. Every tree, flower and piece of grass looks out of place here. The place captivates by its dryness and colorlessness. Only the merchants' alleys show color, with rugs hanging from wall ledges and handmade souvenirs made of colorful fabrics laid out in front of the stores. Like colorful splashes of paint, they decorate the old city of Jerusalem, whose core seems rough and bare, shaped by the climate of the semi-desert and somehow also by the mentality of the Israelis, who say of themselves that their personality is like a cactus fruit, rough on the outside and juicy sweet on the inside.

After "finishing" the shawarma, I'm on my way again. I take a turn through a high arched gate, some kids have converted the narrow lane into a soccer field. No grass, no gate. From left to right. How simple. Six kids and a ball. More is not necessary to experience happiness. At least those who are not yet in the rut of society and may call themselves a child know this to be true. I remember my own childhood days, a wonderful world without i's. No iPad, no iPhone and no iPod – no tablets, MacBooks or Wii's.

We instead pounded the clunky keys of an Atari or jammed playing cards between bicycle spokes with clothespins to mimic the unmuffled exhaust sound of Kreidlers. Music was played from 10-meter long plastic tapes in walkmen and we drew with chalk on the asphalt, we pushed each other into the pit and ate mud, we built huts with rusty nails or rafts from gnarled dry branches and tested their swimming ability daringly on the nearest lake, my goodness, how could this go on for so long?

Somehow, I feel as if this is exactly what is still happening here as I experienced it myself thirty few years ago.

One boy in particular catches my eye. He's dressed head to toe in soccer gear. Ronaldo, the number 7 is not distracted by anything, even when I run through the middle of the "green", he committedly chases the round leather and misses the deflected keeper a goal.

The Wailing Wall

Some stairs lead me uphill, the buzz of voices increases, with Jewish families drumming and singing in the background. A little later then I reach a hill, unobstructed view of the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock, an old tower to its left. A wooden building leads like a gangway against an old city wall. As I look down on the place that is revealed to me here, I get goose bumps. Crowds moving in one direction. I have the feeling that I have been in this place before. Everything seems so familiar. The place brings an incredibly strong atmosphere. Confused thoughts are spreading, trying to find an explanation for the phenomenon of "I've been here before".

I stop a local and point in the direction of the Dome of the Rock. I ask him what kind of place is in front of us.

"This is the Western Wall, my friend." he answers me. The Western Wall?!

"The Wailing Wall, where jewish people pray."

And then the scales fall from my eyes. I am at the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in the Jewish faith. Suddenly I remember old films from the 80s, in which I have probably already seen the wall and the entire square exactly as it now reveals itself to me. Maybe this is also the reason why the place radiates so much familiarity and I am relieved not to have to make the appointment with the parapsychologist of my confidence.

The wall is 18 meters high and forms the western wall of the area of the 2. Jewish temple. Israelis prefer the name "Western Wall" or "Kotel", as opposed to "Wailing Wall", because the place is by no means a wall of lamentation, but a holy place of prayer. Our German designation is therefore misleading. About one third of the wall is under the surface of the earth. Some tunnels also run underground along the wall and can be visited. The wall represents a symbol of God's eternal covenant with his chosen people of Israel. Huge rectangular stone blocks merge into smaller ones in the upper part of the wall, which rises majestically towards the deep blue sky. The people who have lined up to pray at the foot of the wall look like dwarves. A few green bushes grow out of nowhere from the cracks in the wall, bringing some color into the picture.

A mix of visitors, Israelis, children, soldiers in full dress and Jews in traditional black robes with hats, stand in front of the huge wall, palms touching the sacred stone, eyes closed, praying to God. One of the Jews in particular catches my eye and I will see him here more often in the days to come, as I am drawn back to this place several times. His clothes are covered with dust, his shoes worn, his gaze determined. He heads for the wall, rests his cheek lovingly against the stone, closes his eyes and prays. For hours. Every day. He does not move an inch and the expression on his face shows intimate attachment and familiarity. I am fascinated and on the hunt for impressive photos, I get close to him with my lens and shoot a close-up at that time. A photo that was intended as the cover image for this very article. Out of respect for his faith, I can no longer post it today.

I have already reported in the previous Jerusalem article (Via Delarosa) about the for us unimaginable intensity with which the people practice their faith. An experience that has deeply marked and moved me, a fact that I respect and that makes any open-hearted observer think about it. Why is faith practiced with so much more passion in almost all other countries?? In this country, at least, he plays a dominant role, regardless of religion. An almost endless list of religious communities is concentrated here in one place, making Jerusalem both the center of tension and the center of the world.

A single Jew in a tallit, the Jewish prayer shawl, moves to the wall. The tallit is worn only by married men and observant Jews are also buried in it. The black box, which is held in front of the forehead by means of ribbons, is the tefillin. It contains scrolls handwritten on parchment with texts from the Torah, which in turn contain the 5 books of Moses. Wearing the tefillin serves as an exhortation to observe God's commandments.

At the entrance to the Wall there are kippahs, the Jewish headgear without which no one is allowed to approach the Wall. The kippah signals fear of God and humility before God. Unthinking tourists regularly overlook the small stand and are immediately stopped by the locals and asked to cover your head with the small piece of cloth. There is little understanding here for visitors who are not understanding and a harsh tone is quickly struck. Sometimes strong winds blow the kippahs off the heads of visitors and tourists regularly rush after their head coverings. Locals have taken precautions with hair clips. Tourists are largely ignored by the local, praying population here. One tolerates the interest in the wall and tolerates the guest posing in front of the camera, waving with a broad grin for the souvenir photo next to the humble, praying believers. A bizarre situation. A special place.

The prayer cards

In the cracks of the wall, between the huge limestone blocks, tourists put small pieces of paper. Thousands of people write down their prayers and leave them on the Wailing Wall in the hope that their prayers will be answered. Like silent witnesses they fill the spaces between the stones to overflowing and again and again I see single slips of paper falling out of them. Especially when you want to place your own prayer request, some pieces of paper involuntarily fall to the ground. Some people then try to jam the fallen out notes back in, others don't care – the main thing is that their own prayer finds its place in the wall. Personal goal achievement before charity, with God's help.

In the evening, the pieces of paper lying on the ground are swept up and taken away. So I make sure that my personal Jonny prayer withstands every earthquake and every package touristignorance and I place it an arm's length deep in the wall.

The Wailing Wall on the Sabbath

I recommend to visit the Wailing Wall definitely twice. Once during the week, when only a few visitors are there to enjoy the unique atmosphere. And then once again to the absolute climax, the Sabbath, when the square in front of the wall is overflowed by thousands of people and the Sabbath is celebrated with song and dance by the faithful. An unforgettable experience!

Even as I make my way to the Wall, around 6 p.m. on a Saturday, I notice that the small streets of the Old City suddenly seem narrower. Much more people are on the way. Excitedly scurrying towards the Western Wall, there is something in the air that I cannot describe with words.

When I then arrive at the place of the happening, hundreds of people are already here. A squad of soldiers has formed a circle, each with their arms draped over the shoulders of the next, they dance and sing exuberantly and happily. There is strict gender segregation. The demarcation to the women's area disappears almost completely in the sea of heads and hats. The women look curiously at the men's side, from which so much joyful noise resounds.

It begins to dawn and the hustle and bustle takes no end. Thousands of people are still praying and celebrating, and a clear blue sky, coupled with spotlights, immerses the holy place in a new, incredible atmosphere again. A lively hustle and bustle takes place. The whole square is lulled into a kind of bell, completely isolated from the rest of Jerusalem and all the problems out there in the world. You can feel that the Israelis are looking forward to this day all week and that the Sabbath celebration gives them a feeling of lightness and joy.

The "Western Wall,

…I don't like to say Wailing Wall anymore after this experience – a place of prayer and humility before God but also of joy, dance and song. Highly impressive, of dramatic historical and religious significance, deeply moving and emotionally transforming. A jewel in the heart of every traveler in search of the places and moments that you never missed because you didn't know them, and whose memory you wouldn't want to miss once you've had the pleasure of them.