May 14, 2006
Variety at the Kotel
We spent Shabbos in the Old City of Jerusalem - Ha'Ir Ha'Atika. Ha'Rova Ha'Yehudi (The Jewish Quarter). Walking around the Old City on Friday made me feel like I was back in Gush Katif erev-disengagement. All the residents we saw were wearing orange bracelets or orange ribbons. Some had orange items hanging from their cars and windows. We even saw a flag hanging from a windows. The flag was designed like the Israeli flag, but had a black background and the stripes and the star were orange. Unfortunately, for technical reasons, I could not get a picture at the time, and when I went back later to take a picture, the flag had blown in the wind and hooked on something so could only be partially seen. While the rest of us have moved on, for better or worse, in the Old City they still completely identify with the issues of the Hitnatkut.
The Old City is always special and unique and always provides an interesting and uplifting experience, especially on Shabbat. Here is a view you cannot get anywhere else..
On the other hand, they also have to put up with daily views of this:
Seeing that in front of your eyes all the time should be a stark reminder of what should be there. We are all too often caught up in our daily lives and forget that the golden dome known as The Dome of the Rock was built on top of the exact spot where our Kodesh Kodoshim sat in the Bet Hamikdash. Despite the fact that Moshe Dayan said, "Har Habayit Be'Yadeinu" (The Temple Mount is in our hands) when it was recaptured in the Six Day War, we still cannot go up and pray freely. Despite the fact that we believe in freedom of religion and allow access to all churches and mosques located in jewish areas, becasue it is anathema to us to prevent others from praying and worshipping in their holy sites, it seems to be acceptable to the Arabs to consider it harmful and inciting for us to pray in our holy sites located in Arab areas (e.g. see Temple Mount, see Josephs Tomb, see Joshua's Tomb, see any other grave or synagogue in Arab areas) and the Jewish Israeli government is willing to accept that as an excuse to prevent Jews from praying there. [Religious] Jews going up are severely restricted, we cannot go in groups of usually more than 10 or so, we are searched for inflammatory prayer material and stripped of it, if lips are seen moving (even silently) you can be thrown off the mount and possibly arrested, etc. Seeing the Dome of the Rock in front of your eyes daily is a stark reminder of the idea that things are not the way they shoud be.
(note: if you wish to go up to Har Habayit you must comply with various Halachik requirements of purity, and even if you do some Rabbinic authorities still say you cannot go up. Be in contact with your LOR for further discussion on the issue. If you are interested and do not know whom to turn to, email me and I can put you in contact with either Rabbis who support going up to Temple Mount or Rabbis who are against Jews going on Temple Mount).
Anyways, Friday night at the Kotel was much more crowded than I remember it being in the past. I davened mincha with one minyan and then looked around for other interesting minyanim to participate in. There were a lot of minyanim with singing and dancing, and I was looking for one of those to join. I stumbled across a minyan near the back finishing minha and I saw that the minyan looked very interesting. It consisted of about 40 teenagers, most of whom appeared to be not religious based on their dress and haircuts (though I could be wrong), and I noticed the minyan was being led by Moshe Feiglin and Shmuel Sackett, the founders of Manhigut Yehudit. I decided to join the minyan and went over to Moshe and wished him a Shabbat Shalom and introduced myself. Whether you like him or hate him, Moshe Feiglin is an interesting person.
The minyan turned out to be inspiring. Kabbalat Shabbat was sung completely in the stye of R' Carlebach and the kids really got into it. They were singing along and dancing. They were lifting each other on shoulders and it was very lively. All sorts of other people were joining in. My kids were getting antsy because all that dancing and Carlebach style davening also means it takes a long time, so we moved on after a bit to find another minyan.
I joined for a few minutes another minyan I found in the back corner. this minyan was mostly Israeli soldiers, some religious some not, with some regular civilians mixed in, and my cousins were there as well with their friends. My cousin is a student at Aish Hatorah so he and his freinds were there making the minyan leibedig. There was a lot of singing and dancing there as well.
As always happens around sunset by the Kotel, the birds start flying around in circles right over the heads of the worshippers. I told my children that even the birds are dancing to all the singing of Kabbalat Shabbat. It did not help and they were getting even antsier. We moved on and found a faster minyan.
I noticed while beginning the maariv service, that there was a minyan of Hassidim nearby in the middle of minha still. I looked around some more (notice that I obviously did not have enough concentration on my prayers but spent much of my time looking around enjoying the site of so many Jews praying together, each in his own way) and paid more attention to the various groups of people: Two minyans over was a minyan of Yemenite Jews singing some Yemenite song, there were the carlebach minyans scattered throughout singing and dancing, there was a minyan with a young man in the center wearing a tuxedo and bow tie- probably celebrating his bar mitzva (or maybe the tux was just leftover from his bar mitzva), the various hassidic groups each having their own minyan, the National Religious, the mixed minyanim (not men and women, but mixed with different types of people), the Litvish, the Yeshivish, etc.
Everybody was there in close proximity of each other, each davening in his own style and doing his own thing. It did not disturb any other minyan and the variety only enhanced the atmosphere. That is Shabbat in the Old City of Jerusalem!