August 11, 2017, Jerusalem– Coming to Old Jerusalem, there were two themes running through my head: The first one introduced me to bible stories as a child and it was the movie “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” It was a family tradition to watch it every year on Good Friday since I was in first grade. The second was the musicale “Jesus Christ Superstar,” most songs of which my teen spirit knows by heart.
So as I stood by the the entrance of the Western Wall or “The Wailing Wall” (‘Kotel’ in Hebrew and ‘Buraq’ in Islam), I pictured scenes from both classics: Two Jesuses (Max Von Sydow and Ted Neely) throwing tantrums, demolishing carts and makeshift mobile shops, expelling the merchants and money changers from The Temple (song of the same title in my ear).
I can also see the Temple Mount that lies behind the limestone wall. I can hear the loud wailing of worshipers. If I didn’t know my itinerary, I would have thought that somebody died. It has been called the “Wailing Wall.” referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the destruction of the Temples during the Byzantine Empire period (ca. 324–638).
Ben, our Sandeman Tours guide, said: the Jewish people & Christians alike believe that “God hears prayers the loudest within the Western Wall.” (Funny to note though that the wall is technically considered Muslim property, an integral part of the Haram esh-Sharif and the Moroccan Quarter.) So it came to be that because of this ancient belief, millions of people from all over the world come here to pray and insert their hand-written prayers on scraps of paper, fold them and insert them in the cracks of the wall.
You may write as many notes as you like and leave them in the Kotel. You may even bring other people’s notes. Letters may contain personal prayers, petitions, requests, almost anything. However, you are not allowed to read any notes except for the one you penned, because they are strictly “for God’s eyes only.” With my buddies for the day- Miles Barter of UK and two lovely ladies from Germany, we returned to the wall after our guided tour to observe some more of the religious drama taking place. I wasn’t being irreverent: Imagine, this maybe a place where all kinds of stories in the world converge. Men, women, and children of different faiths go there with their own joy or sadness and hopes and dreams. I tried to read the faces of people I watch. In our travels, weaving stories while people-watching is my favorite past time. Wiel and I would sit down on cafes and as I observe the surroundings, stories would come alive in my head.
At the Kotel, however, there was more seriousness to the people than fun. Tourists– youngsters and adults alike, are of course of a different species. Religious pilgrims and the faithful were so into the wailing. Nobody asks what faith do you practice, as long as you submit your bags and belongings to security scanning and allow yourself to be frisked. Everybody is equal here. I observed the Israeli police intently eyeing everyone that comes in and out. For good reason. However, I am not going to that subject matter. My visit is too good to be spoiled by wariness. Na-ah.
As soon as we entered, I found a bank transaction paper in my purse and a pen and started to write my own notes. When I’m done, I moved fluidly among the sea of humanity, like every step I take has a definite purpose. At that moment, my purpose is to insert my letter to my Higher Power in one of the cracks of the wall. Men and women have separate areas to pray. I entered our side and looked at the women and girls around me. Some were seated, some were standing, some were kneeling. There wasn’t any order, no lines, no marshalls.
The wall looks like a mosaic of women of different faiths glued to it. I see chic and I also see drab hair coverings of various textile patterns: Sheitels for the Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Jews. I did not see any hijabs nor Islamic women. Christians wear hats, ball caps, scarves over their heads or none at all. Some had umbrellas. The heat was a killer, I tell you! This old girl was wearing a fedora, Jackie O sunglasses, and sunscreen lotion. By the way, women also need to cover our arms and shorts are not allowed. If you have inappropriate outfit, you won’t be allowed to enter. So you may just stay outside the wall– in the humus joints where coffee is bland. You just lost your chance for your prayer to be heard closely by God. Belat.
Some were kneeling to occupy the lower part, most are standing with their foreheads to the wall. Some were just facing it. The only uniform thing everyone does was praying- loud, soft murmur, medium talk. Maybe half of the women were wailing. Yes, bawling like babies like what I did when Spreckyboy died. Gee, I thought: Somebody must have cancer in these families. God Above the Western Wall, please hear their prayers. Amen. Incredible. Mesmerizing. Endless goosebumps. High score for the Holy Energy.
Traversing the some-sweaty some-perfume-smelling bodies to reach the front wall requires a la Lara Croft savvy. Without any magnetic grapple, ropes, navigator or zip lines, I made my way to the front by expanding my chest, and walking a bit wider– like creating 5 inches perimeter around my actual size which is medium. Ahem. You dig that? Oh, I should mention- my canary yellow Lacoste tote bag helped a lot. I pretended I am arranging it in my shoulder each time I needed to maneuver. There. That is a precious tip to womenfolk who wish to beat the Jerusalem pilgrimage crowd. I know, I know, it’s a little mean, since I am in a place considered very holy. However, I felt that God was leading me the way so there— SUDDENLY I WAS IN FRONT.
I found an itsy bitsy space at the lower part between the side-by-side armpits of two women. I imagined how my basketeer Anjelo would maneuver a dunk: Like a biblical flash of lightning, my note found its way in one of the wall’s cracks. Success! I stopped for a bit to once again reflect on the prayer. that I wrote. Geez, I can feel the energy of people from behind me. Pushing forward, booting one another out. I expected the Kotel to have more tranquil visitors but it will put to shame the crowd at a Crosby, Stills, and Nash or Sergio Mendes or Sarah Brightman concert, where people waited for their turn to occupy a free space. (Yep, these are my jam.)
Now, to get out of there. Ah. God’s plan was for me to suffer on the way back. Suddenly, crowds on my way out has become even more thicker than my way in that it didn’t allow me to use my ‘expansion’ tactic. I encountered dozens of buses of newly-arrived pilgrims. Parang rush hour lang. I smell kili-kili power left and right. Medium-built becomes extra small as I feel I was being crushed in all sides of my sexy frame. I sweated like a pig. Just as when I thought my letter to God was the most ardent prayer of all, now this. So I prayed that He’ll get me out of there quick. But He didn’t. Belat ako.
But after that exit incident, I became certain that God will grant everything I wrote to him. You can’t win ’em all, can you? He said no muna, the next will be yes. Parang nanay o tatay.
Now, pray, tell– what will you write
in your letter to God?
I know that mine has to be specific. Always specific. Strictly specific, including my name and address. I remember an instance from a distant past when I prayed for something that I thought I needed at that time (content of prayer withheld because it was ridiculous and overtime, became hilarious that my jaws would crack at laughing hard): A few months after I made that ardent prayer, God gifted the exact same prayer to my next-door neighbor. No kidding. Buhay pa ang mga bruhang witnesses.
I sulked and did not come out of my room for days. Since that painfully hilarious blooper, I became wiser and better at the drill. Will write prayer requests for food or statement earrings.
Upon my return to the hostel, I researched what will the Western Wall authorities do with these millions of notes. One article said:
“But what becomes of these handwritten prayers, left by the ten million worshipers who gather there each year? There’s certainly not room in the wall for decades of accumulated paper. Jewish law dictates that holy texts may not be destroyed, and these notes fall into that category. So, twice annually—before Passover in the springtime and before the Jewish New Year in the fall—the notes are meticulously removed by workers who care for the site. They use ritually prepared wooden sticks to sweep out the highest notes from between the stones.The scraps of paper are then buried in line with Jewish tradition. According to Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, who manages the site and often escorts foreign dignitaries to the wall, the prayers are collected and bundled up into more than 100 bags. These bags are then buried in the sacred cemetery on the Mount of Olives, treated with the same respect as damaged prayer books or Torah scrolls. Out of privacy, the notes are never read, and the slips of paper have never been counted. This process newly exposes the cracks in the wall, making room for a fresh round of prayers to be offered up to the God—who promises to hear and answer each one (Proverbs 15:29).”