One of the most remarkable landmarks in Jerusalem is the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, and in Hebrew, Ha Kotel. This structure is one of the remaining outer walls from the First and Second Temples. This wall is significant compared to the other walls because it is closest to the room where the 10 Commandments were kept. This room is often referred to as “Holy of Holies.” Regardless of your religious background, this spiritual experience of the Western Wall, is one you will remember.
Visitors and locals alike approach the wall in prayer where they can stuff notes into the cracks of the walls in hopes that their prayers will be answered. Once you are near the Wall you will notice that there are dividers to separate males and females.
Not only can the wall’s beauty be seen above ground, but also below ground where there is a tunnel you can explore the ancient remains. The infamous Western wall actually continues underground where you will be able to see even more of the grandiose wall. In this tunnel, you will get a picture of how long and tall the Western Wall originally was. For example, the portion of the Western Wall above ground is about 200 ft long. When you go through the tunnel, you are able to see the additional 1,591 ft of the wall.
It is politically significant to mention the location of this tunnel because it is built underneath the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. This caused discomfort to the residents during the construction and after its completion, not only because of the noise, but also because of the religious affiliations. In addition, the residents residing over the tunnel allegedly did not have a choice in the matter, as this project politically trumped their voices.
To expand on the tensions relating to the Western Wall and its tunnel, there are more political disputes amongst Jews. A popular dispute is a collective called “Women of the Wall” who strive to achieve the right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud. The Western Wall is currently controlled by an orthodox sect of Judaism that believes it is forbidden for women to partake in the above actions.
While you are on a Holy Land tour, you will experience something unique. The Western Wall is an example of one of the countless sites where you can feel full of spiritual energy, and be shocked to learn that the same site provokes tension between people of the same and different faith.
This Friday evening, both Jews and Muslims will be welcoming important holidays. Jews will begin Yom Kippur, and Muslims will start Eid al-Adha.
Eid al-Adha is translated to “Feast of the Sacrifice” and directly correlates to the biblical story of Abraham sacrificing a nearby sheep, instead of his son, Ishmael. This is a major holiday and Muslim families celebrate that they do not need to sacrifice their first born son in order to show their devotion to God. It is traditional to sacrifice a sheep, goat, or a camel and then share it amongst family, friends, and people who are poor. This holiday lasts at least 3 days, although certain cultures have the holiday last longer.
Similar to other holidays in Islam, Muslims celebrate by eating a big meal with their family and then everyone goes from house-to-house drinking coffee and eating sweets–like cookies with dates and nuts.
Therefore, if you are in the Holy Land and are looking somewhere to go to celebrate Eid al-Adha, look for a nearby Mosque. Once the sun sets it is easy to spot Mosques because of the green light near the top of it.
Additionally, if you will be in Jerusalem not celebrating either the Eid or Yom Kippur, there will be a group of like-minded people hanging out. Click HERE to find out details of the event. I found out about this get-together from the Facebook group Secret Al Quds- East Jerusalem. To learn more about these usual Facebook groups, check out THIS previous blog post.
For all who are celebrating Yom Kippur–gamer chatima tova, May you be inscribed in the Book of Life; and for all who are celebrating Eid al-Adha–Eid Mubarak, Happy holidays!
This Wednesday evening (Sept. 24), Jews in the Holy Land and the Diaspora will be entering into the Jewish New Year, 5775. How is it that the Jewish calendar is starting year 5775, but based on the the Gregorian (aka Western) calendar, it is 2014?
The Jewish Calendar starts from the creation of Adam and Eve, which was estimated to have happened just about 5,775 years ago!
Rosh Hashanah, literally translated to “Head of the year,” is a happy and serious time for Jews. According to a prayer said during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, “On Rosh Hashanah [your fate] it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” There are ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and those are the known as the “Days of Awe.”
In Judaism there is the belief that when you transgressed by hurting someone, God will not pardon your transgressions without you first apologizing the person you hurt. What’s fascinating is that apologizing one time is not enough. Two times is still not enough. However, after the third time, if that person you hurt still does not forgive you, God will pardon your error.
For Rosh Hashanah, there is a tradition of dipping apples into honey, in hopes for a sweet, new year. Also, the traditional Jewish bread, called challah, is made round, instead of braided. The roundness is supposed to signify the circle of life.
Additionally, a ram’s horn (called a shofar) is blown 200 times throughout Rosh Hashanah. There are different interpretations as to why it is a ram’s horn and why it is blown on Rosh Hashanah. One interpretation is that the sound is supposed to wake up our souls.
It is a special opportunity to be on a Holy Land tour during holy days, specifically the High Holy Days. In addition to seeing what was mentioned above, you may also see other traditions, such as people throwing bread crumbs in moving bodies of water, in order to “cast off” their sins (this custom is called tashlich, which literally means “cast off”).
I hope that this upcoming year, 5575, will be full of happiness, non-violent action, love, and yummy food.
L’shana tova u’metuka (Happy and sweet new year)!