My 'Kotel Kvitel' for the Brits

Rabbi Abraham Cooper
Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance

Posted: April 22, 2010 01:56 PM

My 'Kotel Kvitel' for the Brits

As is my custom, when I visit Jerusalem next week, I plan to place a Kvitel -- a handwritten prayer within the cracks of the Western Wall. The Western (or Wailing) Wall is the holiest place for the Jewish people -- the only physical connection to the site of the Solomon's Temple and the Second Temple. Placing supplications there for a speedy recovery of a loved one is fairly typical, though the deposited requests of some prayerful petitioners -- such as the last two Popes and then-Senator Barack Obama -- may occasionally ask for bigger things.

As a person who flies hundreds of thousands of miles a year, I'll be beseeching our Father in Heaven to show some mercy for the beleaguered travelers stranded in airports across Europe -- especially those at Heathrow. Why Heathrow? Because Heathrow is no picnic for travelers at any time, let alone when all flights are grounded for days.

And while I am at it, I am going to jot a prayer for other lost souls associated with the travel industry: the clueless British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who used the occasion of Israel's 62nd anniversary to criticize the Jewish state for including pictures of the Western Wall, claiming that the holy site is technically not located within the country's borders.

"We told the Israeli Tourist Office not to imply that places in the Occupied Territories were part of the State of Israel," ASA, a public organization, said in a statement.

Diplomats will decide that issue, but there is one incontrovertible fact: for 2,000 years these stones have lain at the heart of the Jewish nation. For two millennia, every Jew has faced toward this spot from the four corners of the globe whenever praying to G-d. A fourth-century Jewish midrash spoke of the holiness of the site: "Rav Acha said that the Divine Presence has never moved away from the Western Wall." Long before the Brits organized a tourism industry, there were Jewish pilgrims who reached the Kotel after a journey fraught with danger and difficulty. A document dated to 1050 CE describes the Western Wall as a place of prayer for the Jews. In 1167, during the late Crusader Period, Benjamin of Tudela wrote, "In front of this place is the Western Wall ... and hither come all the Jews to pray before the Wall in the open court." In The Innocents Abroad Mark Twain conveyed his impressions after a mid-19th century visit: "At that portion of the ancient wall of Solomon's Temple which is called the Jew's Place of Wailing, and where the Hebrews assemble every Friday to kiss the venerated stones and weep over the fallen greatness of Zion, any one can see a part of the unquestioned and undisputed Temple of Solomon."

In the 20th century, however, especially during the turbulent years of the British Mandate, Jews' religious rights at the Western Wall were often serious curtailed and violated by violent Arab attacks. Blowing the Ram's Horn at the end of the Yom Kippur service was a punishable offense and often spawned Arab riots. From 1948 to 1967, under Jordanian control, the Western Wall was Judenrein. Pleas to the UN to respect international law went unheeded.

After Israel captured the Old City in 1967, some Muslims began to deny that the Wall had any significance to Judaism. In December 1973, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia declared, "Only Muslims and Christians have holy places and rights in Jerusalem." The Jews, he maintained, had no rights there at all. As for the Western Wall, he said, "Another wall can be built for them. They can pray against that." Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel insists:

The Western Wall -- all its various parts, structures and gates -- are an inseparable part of the al-Aqsa compound ... The Western Wall is part of Al-Aqsa's western tower, which the Israeli establishment fallaciously and sneakily calls the 'Wailing Wall.' The wall is part of the holy al-Aqsa Mosque.
Today, Palestinian officials serially deny that Solomon's Temple ever existed in the Holy Land. Tons of earth were removed from the Solomon's Stables area to prepare for a new mosque and to obliterate traces of Jewish presence. Ironically, archeologists who followed the debris kept discovering more and older Jewish relics!

But here's what Jerusalem's Supreme Moslem Council's 1924 edition of the Guide to the Al-Haram Al-Sharif had to say before politics intervened. Speaking of the Dome of the Rock it states:

The site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest (perhaps pre-historic) times. Its identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which "David built there an altar undo the Lord, and offered burnt and peace offerings."

That inconvenient historic truth was in every annual edition until 1953.

In my Kvitel for the British Advertising Association, I'll probably quote King David, who apparently had to deal with people who couldn't be bothered with the facts: "They have eyes but do not see; ears but do not hear" (Psalms 135).

It is difficult, if not impossible, to make peace with those who deny the most important and cherished parts of your history. Until we can open the eyes and ears of the world to the 3,500- year narrative of the Jewish people, the elusive peace for the Holy Land that everyone claims to desire, will be unattainable.

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