Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Rent-A-Kotel

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Rent-A-Kotel

I have yet to get my head around the whole Women of the Wall issue, but in the meantime I believe that the Masorti movement has found a way to quietly, elegantly and successfully access the Western Wall, (known in Hebrew as the Kotel), bypassing the Orthodox hegemony over admittance and rituals at this sacred location.

Putting Tefillin on my son Netanel for the first time.

Putting Tefillin on my son Netanel for the first time.

I recounted previously how for the fast of the 9th of Av we recited the sad liturgy in the Davidson Center, amidst the massive remaining rubble of the second Temple. The Davidson Center is actually an extension of the exact same wall that has become venerated over the last two millennia.

Untroubled, undisturbed, uninterrupted, unrushed, un-boiling-hot family event.

Untroubled, undisturbed, uninterrupted, unrushed, un-boiling-hot family event.

Almost identical view as from Kotel plaza, but actually more wall, as Davidson dug many more meters deeper, reaching the original stone street from 2,000 years ago.

Almost identical view as from Kotel plaza, but actually more wall, as Davidson dug many more meters deeper, reaching the original stone street from 2,000 years ago.

Inspired by the quiet, almost private venue, I decided to hold the ceremony of my son’s first laying of his Tefillin in anticipation of his Bar-Mitzvah, at the Davidson Center, just a few meters further along from where we would have done it otherwise at the main Kotel plaza.

Minyan2Kotel

Private prayer area, with natural ‘mechitzah’ (dividing wall) between men and women, but not extravagantly so.

Our younger children explored, climbed and had fun while we prayed. They weren't bored, didn't bother us and even inquire and learned some history.

Our younger children explored, climbed and had fun while we prayed. They weren’t bored, didn’t bother us and even inquired and learned some history.

The experience was both educational and transformative. First I will list the advantages of Davidson over the Kotel plaza with my sincere apologies to any Kotel, Tourism, Jerusalem and/or Orthodox officials that may feel slighted by the comparisons:

–          It is quiet, almost eerily so. On a busy day at the Kotel plaza you can hardly hear yourself think, let alone pray.

–          It is shady. Particularly important during a hot Israeli summer morning with the sun climbing quickly in the sky.

–          There are no panhandlers/charity demanders flocking around you like harpies throughout the visit.

–          There are no pushy, toe-stepping, old-lady-shoving delinquents edging to get closer to God’s wall.

–          It is historically and archeologically much more interesting, both because of the displays, but more importantly because of the multiplicity of archeological remains that are still on site, including the fallen stones I’ve described, the ancient ritual baths, the vendor stalls (that Jesus complained about in his attack on the Temple money-changers), the vestige of Robinson’s Arch and much more.

–          Perhaps the most significant advantage was the ability of our womenfolk to be close participants in the event. They didn’t need to fight other women to get a chair to stand precariously on and peek over the divider to get a short glimpse of their son, or grandson, or brother, several meters away commemorating an important milestone in their lives and generally unable to hear a word.

Dancing!

Dancing!

After the prayer, both parents enjoying the moment together.

After the prayer, both parents enjoying the moment together.

Dancing with my daughter.

Dancing with my daughter.

Since my own Bar-Mitzvah and my brother’s and my three older sons, we have all donned our Tefillin and/or read from the Torah for the first time at the Kotel. It is always a special, emotional and life-defining event. This time it was seriously enhanced.

My Bar-Mitzvah boys.

My Bar-Mitzvah boys.

Following are details for those that may want to follow our example:

–          The Davidson center opens to the public at 8am.

–          Admission is NIS 30 per adult, NIS 16 for children, seniors and soldiers.

–          If you book your event through the Masorti movement and arrive before 8:45am (exactly), there is no charge for admission (would have saved me several hundred shekel – though the money spent was still highly worthwhile – it was as if I had rented an exclusive first class part of the Kotel for private use).

–          In general, they are not really set up for prayer services. As we came on a day that did not require the reading of the Torah, it was not complicated. We brought our own prayer books and were fine.

Overall it was an incredible, enjoyable and meaningful event and I recommend it to all who wish to have an organized prayer at the foot of God’s house.

Try getting a family picture this close to the Kotel.

Try getting a family picture this close to the Kotel.

5 thoughts on “Adventures of a Chief Rabbi: Rent-A-Kotel

  1. Bentzi

    First of all mazel tov to Tamara and you and your entire awesome family. Great post and pictures. I have been reading your posts semi regularly as I have always enjoyed your writing and its really a great way of catching up with you on your latest life adventure. Don’t know if we will ever make it to South America but I always get a silly grin on my face when I think of you as a chief Rabbi.
    Doodie

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