“Jerusalem, if I forget you, Let my right hand forget what it’s supposed to do …”
The Hebrew word of the day is קִיר (kir), which means “wall,” and you’ll soon understand why. And to help put you in our frame of mind here today in Yerushalayim, play this video (our bus soundtrack!) while reading this post, courtesy of Matisyahu.
This morning after Shacharit, we first headed to Ammunition Hill, a national memorial at the site of one of the fiercest battles during the Six-Day War, ultimately leading to the reunification of Jerusalem. We watched a moving film about a battalion of Israeli paratroopers who fought there against the entrenched Jordanian military. Thirty-seven IDF troops lost their lives in the fighting at Ammunition Hill.
To get a better understanding of the challenges of trench warfare, we waged our own Capture the Flag “battle” using the winding trenches, fences, and bunkers on the grounds of the memorial as our playing field (slideshow below).
From Ammunition Hill, we went to the Old City, entering through the Jaffa Gate and then climbing the ancient walls of the city that were built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th century. We trekked along the stone paths of the Ramparts Walk, which let us peek inside the cloistered Armenian compound and see stunning views of the Old City, ending between the Zion and Dung Gates.
We then visited King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, which our guide Samuel (you can follow him on Instagram @MyIsraeliGuide) informed us is not the actual burial site of King David. “Jerusalem is a City of Faith,” he said. We recited a Psalm before entering the tomb, where throngs come to pray and pay homage to Israel’s famous king.
Next, we joined the throngs of tourists for lunch and shopping in the Jewish Quarter, followed by a fun scavenger hunt. Then we shifted our focus to the Kotel, first reading a poem about the history of the wall to prepare for our own pilgrimage there.
“I am a stone in the Western Wall. I see Jews come from all over the world come to pray at this holy site which was shown to our forefather, Avraham, 3,500 years ago, which was built by our kings and protected by our soldiers, which was and which still is the focal point of our existence and which throughout our Jewish history has been cherished and loved.”
We took a few moments to reflect on our expectations for our experience at the Kotel and our questions for G-d and our prayers. Like millions of Jews before us, we wrote down our prayers for ourselves, friends, family, the Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the world on pieces of paper to slip into the wall.
We also reflected on our debt of gratitude to the paratroopers whose memories we honored earlier in the day at Ammunition Hill; it was because of their bravery and heroism in reuniting the Jewish Quarter with the rest of Jerusalem that we are able to come to the Kotel today and pray there as Jews.
And then, at last, it was off to the Wall …
The Kotel plaza we are familiar with only represents a small piece of the wall, which extends for hundreds of feet and can be explored underground in the Kotel Tunnels. The tunnel excavations at the base of the Temple Mount have revealed immense stones of the Western Wall underground (one is 14 meters long and weighs almost 570 tons!), ancient water pits, stairways and arches, ritual baths, and more. We learned about the history of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall and visited the Temple’s “Holy of Holies.”
Today was made more special because former CDS students Yoav and Noa, now living in Israel, joined us for the day. Also, Lauren ran into her brother, Brian, a CDS alum and University of Pittsburgh student in Israel on a Birthright Israel trip. Only in Jerusalem!
We enjoyed dinner tonight at a local mall, and then it was an early bedtime; one FitBit logged more than 16,000 steps today, so rest is definitely in order before we head to Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl, as well as participate in a Chesed project at a local food pantry.
Stay tuned tomorrow for 360-degree images from today’s experience at the Wall!