The Western Wall is what remains of the Temple of Solomon. The first temple was built by Solomon in the tenth century BC and was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Then, it was rebuilt upon the return of the Jews from Babylonian exile in the fifth century BC. This second temple was remodeled and enlarged by King Herod and finally destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
In front of the Western Wall, there is a wide square. The combined wall and square were enchanting. The houses, which looked onto the square, didn’t spoil the environment. They fit in the urban context. Everything there was white from the Wall to the limestone of the houses. Entering the square, I noticed a fountain with many water taps. Plastic jars were tied to each faucet with strings. At first, I thought it was drinking water, but then I saw people washing their hands. In fact, they filled the jars and poured the water on their hands before and after they touched the Wailing Wall. I poured a jar of water on my hands too. I rubbed them and went to the wall.
On the external part of the wall there were some scattered bushes of wild herbs. They looked like capers. I saw only men praying in front of the wall. While they were praying, they shook their bodies back and forth, bending their heads. On the left side close to the wall, I noticed a wide table with many books on it. Upon reading the books, the Orthodox Jews besides shaking their bodies, uttered a kind of gibberish, but different from that I heard in India and in the Protestant Church. This gibberish was much shriller.
The square was divided into two by a barrier. I peeped through it and saw women praying in the other side of the wall. The part of the square reserved for them was smaller, so they crowded in front of the wall.
When I entered the square, there was a stand on my right. A man sitting behind the table gave me a white-colored kippah. He said to me, “Talk with God! You have nothing to do but talk with God. Confine yourself to talking with God!”
I wore the kippah and headed for the wall. I took a seat on one of the many white chairs in the square, raised my head and admired that majestic wall that seemed to touch the sky. In my mind I relived its history and pictured the Temple of Solomon. How gorgeous it was! It had been built to house the Ark of the Covenant.
People prayed with one arm against the wall and their head against their arm. They were talking with God. I stood up, put my arm against the wall as well, and set my head against my arm according to Jewish custom. I talked with God, saying everything I felt at that moment. I loved that kind of prayer. Talking with the divinity is deeper than reciting an absent-minded prayer.
On the right side of the Wailing Wall, there were indoor vaults. I entered the hall beneath the vaults. I saw the original foundations through a glass floor. There were many shelves with plenty of books on them.
I went out and headed for the man from whom I had borrowed the kippah. He wanted to give me a leather black strap with a small leather black box in the middle of it.
“What is this for?” I asked him.
“Oh, you are not Jewish. Move on!”
I washed my hands one more time at the fountain and left the square for Jaffa Gate.
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
– Travels of the Mind