Left Wanting at the Wailing Wall
Jerusalem, Israel and the Palestinian Territories
One of my biggest mistakes in Jerusalem was taking the family into Jerusalem's Old City on a Saturday, during the Sabbath. Well, with all the Jews at home, crowds will certainly be less, I thought. Unfortunately, we traded an unknown quantity of people for the stringent limitations found during the weekly Jewish holiday.
Naturally, public transportation was totally shut down, which meant that of the seven hours spent on the Old City outing, three were burned just walking to the location from out in the suburbs (a solid an hour and a half each way, and becoming quite cold during the evening return).
But walking around with a 16-month-old for seven hours wasn't nearly as annoying as the discovery that the Arab administration prohibits non-Muslims access to the Temple Mount (the area with the famous golden dome) on Fridays, Saturdays and Muslim holidays. Entry is through a covered wooden walkway next to the Western Wall, and even on weekdays, access is just granted to non-Muslim visitors for approximately five (non-continuous) hours a day.
Coupled with that particular disappointment was our heavy-handed security screening to enter the Western Wall's plaza, combined with the armed guards monitoring/enforcing the prohibited use of cameras within the grounds. You see, labor and creating things during the Sabbath is prohibited, and signs warn that using cameras, carrying electronic devices, or even taking handwritten notes is utterly forbidden.
This was a real shame, as I really wanted a few snapshots of the interesting habit Jews have of placing slips of paper containing written prayers into the crevices of the Wall. More than a million notes are placed each year, collected twice a year and buried on the Mount of Olives.
As a consonance, visitors wishing to engage in photography are instructed to leave the security perimeter and snap their shots from behind a gated street (looking down on the site).
As for Tatiana, she was more turned off from the location than disappointed, particularly by the mandatorily segregated and screened off 'female zone' (to keep women from tainting the prayers of the men, I suppose). She has a great disdain for Haredi and Hasidic men.
Men are expected to wear a kippah (skullcap) when in proximity to the Wall. Should you not have one, a paper version is provided for you:
The builders of the Western Wall could never have fathomed that one day their modest creation would become the most important religious shrine for the Jewish people. Indeed, when it was built some 2000 years ago it was merely a retaining wall supporting the outer portion of the Temple Mount, upon which stood the Second Temple. But following the destruction of the temple in AD 70, Jews were sent into exile and the precise location of the temple was lost.
Upon their return they purposely avoided the Temple Mount, fearing that they might step on the Holy of Holies, the ancient inner sanctum of the temple barred to all except high priests. Instead they began praying at an exposed outer wall; according to rabbinical texts, the Shechina (divine presence) never deserted the wall and it's regarded as the most holy of all Jewish sites.
The Wall grew as a place of pilgrimage during the Ottoman period and Jews would come to mourn and lament their ancient loss—hence the term the Wailing Wall. At this time, houses were pressed right up to the Wall, leaving just a narrow alley for prayer.
In 1948 the Jews lost access when the whole of the Old City was taken by the Jordanians. Nineteen years later when Israeli paratroopers stormed in during the Six Day War, they fought their way directly to the Wall and the first action on securing the Old City was to bulldoze the neighboring Arab quarter to create the plaza that exists today.
Sabbath-Friendly Security Protocols
I absolutely love it when religious leaders create policies that manipulate church doctrine into just the alignment desired. So, what was so special about this Sabbath-friendly metal detector (and its accompanying x-ray machine) that we were required to pass through? Absolutely nothing. (red emphasis is mine)
Careful, the Wall Might be Harmed
Wow, who knew that someone's style of dress could cause harm to an inanimate object?