I made a couple of friends on a Jerusalem tour on Friday afternoon. One of them was a guy from Austin, Texas, and the other one from Paris, France, (they said they were computer programmers who are over here in Jerusalem taking some training) and we connected up later in the evening, about 6 p.m., and walked down to the western wall together (formerly called the Wailing Wall). They knew a short cut down through the center of the city, a kind of tunnel with shops on both sides where Arabian sheik wannabes ply their wares. Several salesman tried to accost me with a tour of their trinkets, schlock and kitsch, but I told them I had an appointment.
The western wall was a packed cacophony of Jewish believers, orthodox in their black and white Sabbath best, (which is basically the same thing they wear every day). Most wore the black wide brim hats that they wear out on the streets. But, some had special large round furry felt hats (maybe their Sabbath best?). They also wear a yarmulke underneath the black hat.
I sat next to a young orthodox Jew on the flight over. When I asked him why he wore two hats he said that it helped him be closer to God. But, my guess is that he was pulling my leg and he wore the yarmulke underneath the wide brim hat because he had to take the wide brim hat off when he sat down in the airline seat next to me, and when he took it off he would still have something covering his head. One question I have is whether they take it off when they take a shower?
The other interesting thing in regard to Orthodox Jews is that on the flight from Atlanta to Israel about ten of them gathered two times during the flight for their prayers. They kind of took over the area in the back of the plane where the stewards hang out. I'm not sure what the stewards thought, but I heard one of them giving directions to the Jews so that they would time their prayers to coordinate with the upcoming breakfast.
Back to the western wall... when you go to the wall you have to check through a metal detection system similar to an airport security system. So, that's a little strange, but with all of the tension in this part of the world, entirely expected and understood.
We had a short time down at the western wall earlier in the day on the tour, and at that time I put a little paper yarmulke on my head and went down to the wall to pray. I didn't put a paper prayer in the wall like Obama did when he was at the Western Wall a year or so ago. But, I did put a hand on the wall and pray. Since my prayer was in my head to the Lord it's between me and him, which is good because when Obama was here a reporter stole his piece of paper out of the wall and reported what he had prayed about on the news. It was something about world peace, which hasn't happened. And, maybe it hasn't happened because the reporter pulled the paper prayer off of the wall. So, that reporter has a lot on his conscience.
On this Friday evening, which is the beginning of Jewish Sabbath, I could perhaps have made my way down to the wall when we first arrived, but I would have had to put my head down in football mode and plow over some worshiping Jews, something I was wise to not do. So, we stayed back from the wall about 50 yards, and just watched things unfold. As time went on more and more Jewish believers gathered until they were packed in a space about 150 yards wide by 50 yards in depth.
Some of the orthodox Jews were doing the rocking chair prayers where they rock back and forth at the waist. Others were reading Scripture at various tables and podiums. Then, there were a number of Jews who were obviously from less strict synagogues. They were gathered in groups, singing songs, arm in arm, dancing in circles, like you see at a Jewish wedding. Oh, these were all just guys. Only the men are allowed on northwest side of the worship area. The women have their own cordoned off section just south of the men. So, the guys were singing songs, but from what I could tell of most of the songs it was just, “Yah, yah, yah, yah.....” I didn't know the tune, but I caught the lyrics real fast.
So, the orthodox were rocking vertically up and down and the moderates were rocking horizontally. Some of the women were rocking vertically, but mostly they were acting pretty calmly compared to the men. And they weren't as many women there as men, which Seth (one of the computer programmers) suggested to me that maybe they were home watching the kids, which made sense because there were hardly any children at the wall.
What was really cool was that as the sun set and all of this other stuff was going on the birds showed up. No, not like in the movie. This was more like what happens in old Iowa barns. These were swallows who have built their nests between the cracks in the western wall where the rocks connect with each other. There must have been about thirty swallows doing their own version of a divine dance, swooping, diving, swirling around in circles just like the dancers. It was actually more moving to me than the people praying and dancing, perhaps because it was more unexpected.
One of my favorite passages comes from the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:26, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” And my Psalm reading for the day was from Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1).
Addendum: Please note that I mean no respect to the Jews, God, or the birds in what I have written. This is the way I saw it, and it was a spiritual experience.