Sunday, July 6, 2014

My Prayer Experiences: Part I – Where I Prayed

This morning I davened Shacharit (morning prayer) with the Conservative Yeshiva (CY) at Ezrat Yisrael, the “non-Orthodox” section of the Kotel (the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall). What and where is that? It’s a new section of the Kotel, in or near what has been called Robinson’s Arch, a few dozen yards south of the existing plaza, next to the Rambam Gate. The longstanding plaza that one thinks of when visualizing the Kotel still stands  – the large plaza divided in two by a mechitza, a divider/fence of sorts separating a large men’s section from a smaller women’s section. 

But now, if one goes off to the right, past the entrance to the Dome of the Rock, a new mini (and I mean mini) platform has been built where men and women can pray together in an egalitarian, pluralistic manner, unimpeded, 24 hours a day. Prior to this platform being built, access to egalitarian Robinson’s Arch area for prayer had time restrictions. I am happy that the time restrictions are off but personally I'm not so happy about the small space available for prayer. To me the area, while still quite impactful, has lost some of the raw power that it had before the platforms were built.  

Ezrat Yisrael - One can pray under the umbrellas - a bar mitzvah was happening as I took this picture last week. 

Another view. Here the umbrellas are closed. If you look to the right of the umbrellas, there is a triangle of yellow cloth. The space between that cloth and the Wall is where we prayed this morning. Very small. You can see the dug up rocks in the foreground of the picture. 

There was just something so primal in the davening that I would do when I was sitting on the ground, amidst the upheaval of the rocks and uneven pavement that remained from days gone by. The upturned stones are still there, you can see them, but not sit amongst them. 

One of my most powerful prayer experiences was in just this space on Tisha B’Av in the summer of 2009. Tisha B’Av occurred during the second summer session at CY. A group from the CY went to Robinson’s Arch and observed Tisha B’Av evening services along with another group of Conservative Jews, Russians, if I recall. I listened to the aching lament of Eicha (Lamenations) while sitting on the ground amongst the ruins of the Temple by Robinson’s Arch. During our time there we heard church bells ringing and the Muezzin (the Muslim call to prayer). We also heard a huge commotion – some kind of protest outside the old city – punctuated by horns honking and other modern and ancient sounding noises.

What an experience that was! Sitting on the ancient ground, candles lit, listening to Lamentations, hearing the multicultural noises around me – part of that evening seemed to transcend time and space. For the first time I began to feel what it might have been like during the destruction of the Temple – the chaos, the noise, the surreal quality of the experience. It was a Tisha B’Av that I will never forget. And it was only able to happen because of the city where it was located, because of the ground upon which I was seated, and of course because of the wonderful community of the Conservative Yeshiva that I was a part of.

For a blog posting of another experience at Robinson's Arch, go to

More to follow.....

Update July 8, 2014 - I was happy to learn that there is a plan to clear stones and make a larger space on the ground.  

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