Midnight at the Kotel, the Western Wall. Each night between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I posted a new picture on Facebook that had been taken at the Kotel at the height of the Slichot prayers. These impressive pictures were sent to me by tour guides and also by ordinary visitors and in all of them one sees tens of thousands of men, women and children thronging the Kotel plaza to maximum capacity with the overflow crowd filling the alleys of the Jewish Quarter.
Earlier on in the evenings, people sent me pictures of the surge of people crowding the Old City participating in tailor-made Slichot tours: for Bedouin soldiers; for the deaf given in sign language; for younger children in the early hours of the evening and a wheelchair accessible tour organized by Yad Sarah.
Besides my love of “likes,” why did I decide to post these pictures on my Facebook page? What message are they telling us? I feel they reflect three points that were not part of the public agenda during the just-ended year.
The Numbers — One million people visited the Kotel from the beginning of Elul until Sukkot. They voted with their feet. Events that attract such a large crowd are normally headline news. When the media so desires, even those with just a thousand participants reach the front pages. It’s all a matter of the agenda. In this case, a large percentage of Israel’s citizens stood in traffic jams, parked far away and went by foot to the Kotel, sending a clear message. However, it hardly hit the headlines.
The Variety — Most of the visitors to the Kotel would not be labelled as religious, according to the accepted definition. Take a close look at the pictures, you will hardly see any Haredim, very few knitted kippot and an overwhelming majority of the men donned special head covering out of respect to the holiness of the site. The makeup of the crowd in the women’s section is similar. And everyone raises their voice in unison in Tfila and singing the Slichot. No one comments on immodest dress in the women’s section (just imagine the uproar if some idiot would dare to do so). The variety of people I met at the Kotel was astounding: an organized tour for bank employees; the workers of a local authority; students at a pre-military academy; busloads of kibbutzniks and moshavniks from the north and south of the country as well as groups of families who got together to make the trip. All these people felt the pull of the Kotel tugging at their Jewish hearts and came to answer the call.
The Kotel — It has been the object of such derision in the past year and only reached the headlines in the context of disagreements and extremism. One could easily believe that it only serves to divide us and no one in their right mind would want to visit. Without getting into an actual discussion about the “Women of the Wall,” the surge of people visiting during Elul and Tishrei puts the numbers in perspective. However, those who show their love for the Kotel by thronging towards it do not belong to an organization, they don’t have a spokesperson to put out press releases and no one interviewed them to hear their opinion about the site. Maybe the thousands of people coming to say Slichot, should be saying Slicha — Sorry to the Kotel itself.