February 21st 2013
According to Jewish tradition, the Western Wall is the holiest place on earth, and it is never more holy than on the holiest day of the week, Shabbat. Take part in a spiritual journey to the site where the Holy Temple once stood, with a tour guide who will meet you at Jaffa Gate and accompany through the Old City and down to the Western Wall Plaza.
Shabbat at the Western Wall is often described as a magical experience. At sunset on Friday, thousands of Jews gather at the Kotel to welcome the Sabbath. Soldiers in uniform with rifles on their backs dance with men in long black coats and teenagers with backpacks. The divisions of Israeli society are not as polarizing here, where Jews of all beliefs and backgrounds join together in joy and prayer.
Tourists from all over the world converge on the Western Wall on Friday night as well. They come to watch the prayers from afar, or to touch the stones and place a note in the cracks between them. Residents of the Old City often walk down the steps from the Jewish Quarter to welcome Shabbat at the Western Wall and possibly come home with dinner guests whom they’ve never met before.
You’ll meet the guide just as the sky starts to darken, and if you are lucky you will hear the siren that ushers in the Sabbath in the city of Jerusalem. As you walk through the Old City, you will spot people dressed in their finest clothing, hurrying to the nearest synagogue. Women with small children head to the playgrounds, and the squares of the neighborhood fill up with kids playing tag and jump rope. As you near the Western Wall, the crowd gets thicker. Everyone waits patiently in line to pass through the narrow security gates of the Kotel. Once inside the Kotel plaza, the sounds of many groups praying and singing – all with different timings, rhythms, melodies and tones – are heard in the air. Find a group, join in, and try to tear yourself away at the end of the prayers.