At the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City is the Western Wall. This holy wall often called the Wailing Wall, but you will never hear a Jew use this name as it is considered highly offensive. This name was coined by non-Jews who occupied Israel, mocking the pain of the Jews who wept at the Western Wall after the ancient Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.
Temple Mount and the Western Wall are the most sacred sites in the world for Jewish people. And Jews and non-Jews from all religions and all corners of the world travel here to come together to pray, meditate and reflect.
The Western Wall is a remnant of the Jewish Temple that was destroyed centuries ago in 70 A.D. by the Romans. The Kotel is the western retaining wall of the Temple. The holy Wall has grown in significance because it is all that remains of the Temple. The Western Wall is 50 meters long, and 20 meters high, however this is actually just a fraction of the wall. The wall extends beneath the ground, with many tunnels and even an ancient Roman theatre.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, it’s impossible to not feel the power and religious and historical significance of the Wall, and be deeply moved.
Thousands of people travel to the wall each year to visit and recite prayers. It’s incredibly powerful to see and hear people loudly praying in different languages. Their prayers are either spoken or written down and placed in the cracks of the wall. I would suggest you have your prayer written on a piece of paper when you visit the Wall.
You have to pass strict security before entering and there’s a police presence everywhere. The wall is divided into two sections, one area for males and the other for females. Men must wear a yarmulke and women must cover their head. Modest dress is a requirement and deep respect is a MUST. You must wait patiently and respectfully in your section for the person in front of you to complete their prayers. Once they are finished, you step towards the wall, bow your head and offer prayers. You can stay there as long as necessary, and once you have finished you must slowly walk backwards away from the wall. Turning your back on the holy wall is considered disrespectful.
Twice a year the Rabbi of the Western Wall collects the thousands of notes to ensure there is space for future prayers, and he buries them on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives.
The Western Wall is an intense and emotional place, so be prepared to feel deeply moved.
What happens to the prayers after they are buried on the Mount of Olives?
When the Rabbi of the Western Wall collects the prayers from the cracks of the Wall and buries them on the Mount of Olives, it’s not just a simple act of tidying up. Ifeel that this carries a deep, symbolic meaning, connecting the present-day prayers of the faithful with the historical and spiritual continuity of the Jewish people. The Mount of Olives itself is a site of immense religious significance, and by burying the prayers there, it’s as if each heartfelt prayer and hope for that prayer to be answerd continues even in a final sacred resting place.
How has the Western Wall been preserved and protected through the centuries, especially given the history of the region?
The preservation of the Western Wall through centuries of conflict and change is a testament to the resilience and dedication of those who hold it dear. From what I’ve gathered during my visits and conversations with locals, the Wall has been maintained through a combination of religious devotion, community effort, and at times, international support. It’s a focal point of Jewish life and culture, symbolizing the enduring spirit of a people who have faced adversity time and again. The efforts to protect and preserve it, I believe, reflect a profound commitment to ensuring that future generations can also experience its profound spiritual presence.
Can non-religious visitors participate in the tradition of placing prayers in the Wall?
As someone who appreciates the serenity and inclusivity of sacred spaces, I was moved by how the Western Wall welcomes visitors of all faiths to participate in the tradition of leaving prayers in its ancient stones. You don’t have to be Jewish to share a moment of reflection at this holy site. I’ve heard that the prayers people write are as diverse as the visitors themselves, can range from personal pleas for health and happiness to wishes for peace in the world. Regardless of your religion, you (and your kids) must dress appropriately and your should all realize that you are guests at all times.
Did you feel the same deep experience? Leave your comments below.
I’m a travel and health writer, digital brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising an active family, life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.