Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
This period of time in Israel is called “Acharei HaChagim,” (After the Holidays). Here, at the Western Wall, we are summarizing the period that began at the beginning of Elul and peaked with the masses who made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem during Sukkot. We all see these summaries as crucial. They allow us to see what worked well and what requires improvement, how we can make the prayer area more accessible for visitors, how we can maintain the sense of glory at this holy site…
I have been privileged to participate in dozens of these holiday summaries since I was appointed to this job, but I cannot recall one as moving as the one we had this week. Over two million worshippers and visitors came to the Western Wall over less than a two-month period. This is unprecedented by any measure and is even more exciting since it comes against the backdrop of security tensions in certain areas of Jerusalem.
These two million visitors walked the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, toured the sites of the Western Wall, and prayed in front of the ancient stones as they continued the traditions of their patriarchs and matriarchs throughout the generations.
Israel’s visible and undercover security forces worked day and night, with the help of G-d, to keep visitors safe from harm. Their calming presence is the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy, “On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night, they shall never be silent…”
During recent years, the Western Wall has been sharply criticized by zealots from both fringes of the Jewish scale. There are those who claim the Western Wall is too open and tolerant to visitors who don’t act in accordance with halacha (Jewish law), and there are those who claim that the Western Wall is too conservative and strict. Each side claims it is completely correct. What both share is their threat that if their claims are not met, Jews will distance themselves from the Western Wall and will not find their place there.
Two million pilgrims who came to the Western Wall during these holidays from all around the world, and millions more who participated in various events at the Western Wall remotely via technology and media channels, all prove the opposite. They prove that the Jewish nation in Israel and around the world wants the Western Wall to stay just as it is – unswervingly devoted to the traditions of generations and welcoming to every man and woman. They wish it to remain a place where everyone can pray his or her own individual and private prayer within a public that continues its eternal customs.
The Western Wall is a unique and unusual place. It is a place where all the various branches of the Jewish nation meet in one place and reconnect with the huge and solid trunk from which they all grew. Two million visitors returned to draw strength from this trunk. They are the eternal answer to the voices who wish to tear the Western Wall apart and divide it among different sectors and opinions.
We, at the Western Wall, will continue to tread carefully and faithfully on the king’s path that ascends to Jerusalem. “For the sake of Zion, I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest” (Isaiah 62).