The Western Wall in Jerusalem (Ha-Kotel Ha-Ma’aravi as it’s known in Hebrew) is the holiest of Jewish sites, but an absolute must see regardless of your religion. The power of seeing so many people praying and overcome emotionally by this mystical Wall is not to be missed.
If you’re Jewish, you will have been brought up with the knowledge that the Western Wall is sacred because it is a remnant of the wall that once enclosed and supported the Second Temple (but not part of the actual temple as was once thought). It is the only remnant of the Temple that Jews can touch, pray to and weep upon. It is also known as the “Wailing Wall” because for centuries Jews have gathered here to mourn the loss of their temple. You might not see any actual “wailing”, but you will see some people get very close and personal with the wall, in order to get a more “direct” line of communication with God.
The Western Wall Plaza, the large open area that faces the Western Wall, functions as an open-air synagogue that can accommodate tens of thousands of worshipers. Prayers take place here day and night, and special services, such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are often held here as well. On Tisha B’Av, which falls in July or August, a fast is held to commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temple.
At the prayer section of Wall itself, you can see grass growing out of the upper cracks. The lower cracks of the wall are crammed full with bits of paper containing written prayers. Orthodox Jews can be seen standing at the wall, chanting and swaying. Some Jews visit the wall daily to recite the entire Book of Psalms.
Visitors of any religion can approach the Wall and pray beside it (one of the more noted non-Jewish recent visitors was the future President of the USA, Barack Obama). Men who want to go to the wall must wear a hat or take a free head covering from a box beside the entrance to the prayer area.
Women can also approach the wall, but need a required shawl and short-skirt covering. There is a section to the right of the Western Wall for women, split from the men’s section by a dividing screen, as women are not allowed into the men’s section in keeping with Orthodox Jewish tradition.
To see how high the original construction was, you can enter the Western Wall Tunnel, located between the men’s rest rooms and the public telephones on the plaza’s northern side. Both men and women can enter free upon request (but it’s closed on Saturday). Inside, you can get an idea of the true depth of the Wall.
You can also arrange to take a special walk in recently excavated tunnels alongside the Western Wall by calling the Western Wall Heritage Foundation (tel. 02-6271333). Admission is NIS 20 ($4.40); special tours are extra.
How to get there:
By bus: Numbers 1, 38, 88
By car: there is a parking lot near the Dung Gate (the Gate of the Old City nearest to the Wall).