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Also known as the Wailing Wall and the Kotel, Israel’s Western Wall is located in the Old Quarter of East Jerusalem. It is the holiest shrine of the Jewish faith. It is 57 meters tall, built of thick, corroded limestone, and is close to 500 meters in length, though most of it has disappeared in other structures. The wall is believed by Jews to be the Western Wall of the Second Temple. The temple's original location is disputed; a few Arabs historians argue that it is part of the structure of Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., Jews were not allowed to come to Jerusalem until the Byzantine period. Even after that they were allowed to visit once a year on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple and weep over the ruins of the Holy Temple. This was the reason the wall became known as the Wailing Wall. Jews were again not allowed to visit the wall from 1948-1967 when it was in the Jordanian section of the city. After the Six Day War, the Western Wall became a place for national rejoicing and prayer, as the last accessible relic of the last Temple.

Given such as history that goes back centuries, the Western Wall has been a highly contentious issue for generations and a visit here thus involves a lot of emotion for the believer. For a tourist like me, getting a glimpse into this prevailing emotionally charged atmosphere made a visit to this historically and religiously important shrine a memorable experience. An Israel tour guide took me to the Western Wall Plaza, a large open area that faces the Wall. It functions as an open-air synagogue that can accommodate tens of thousands of worshipers. Prayers take place here day and night, and special services can also be held here. Though entry is free to the plaza, every visitor has to pass through metal detectors for security clearance. Once I entered, I noticed that the plaza was divided into three parts, one for observers and the other two for prayers – one section for men and a smaller section for women. Visitors must keep in mind to be respectful at all times and not to offend the locals; my tour guide ensured that I was modestly clad, and instructed me to avoid being loud and noisy. If you’re not adequately clad, appropriate clothes will be made available to you.

Observing the devout at their sacred place of worship was an unearthly experience. People were praying facing the wall, some were wailing, swaying and sobbing, and others would slip prayers written on pieces of paper into fissures in the Wall. Hundreds of such notes were stuffed into every accessible crevice of the wall. After people finished praying, they avoided turning their backs to the Wall, choosing instead to walk backward. The Wall itself is a formidable structure. The huge lower stones of the wall are from the time of Herod, while the ones higher up date from later times. The sides of the lower stones, known as ashlars, have been carved with such precision that they rest perfectly against and on top of one another, without mortar. Once I took in the whole scene, I stood back in the plaza and realized that from this one point I could see both the Wall and the Islamic Dome of the Rock in one glance. The importance of this proximity dawned upon me and I realized how years of conflict over this shared sacred space had converted the stones in the wall from mere stones to witnesses of the region’s turbulent history.

Visiting Israel’s Western Wall  
Visiting Israel’s Western Wall  

Also known as the Wailing Wall and the Kotel, Israel’s Western Wall is located in the Old Quarter of East Jerusalem. It is the holiest shrin...