Alan Abrams
Alan Abrams

Why I don’t go to the Kotel anymore (even though I live only about 2 miles away)

It’s not because I’m afraid. And it’s not because I don’t think Jews like me have just as much of a right to go to the Kotel (Western Wall) as the people of any other faith group have to go to their holy sites.

Maybe if I’d made Aliyah in my mid-20s like the South African immigrant who was murdered there Sunday morning by a Palestinian terrorist, I would have made the Kotel a major center of my relationship with the Land of Israel. I guess it was once, many years ago when I was still a student. And I would go there again if doing so was part of honoring family or a friend. I certainly respect how important it is to some people to pray there.

But I’d have trouble doing it, praying there. It’s not because it’s not a holy place. It is holy, deeply holy. But in my seven years of being blessed to live here in Israel, it’s become clearer and clearer to me how the Kotel, and the adjacent Muslim holy sites, can bring out the worst, the most violent, in people. 

That violence doesn’t always come in the form of murder like it did today as I write this. I have some friends, male friends, who I know are, overall, men of peace. But I’ve had to endure seeing images of them with rage in their eyes, pushing with all their might against other Jews who have different ideas about what’s proper and improper in worshipping at the Kotel. It breaks my heart. 

I know these men are proud of what they were doing, that they think of themselves as having defended the rights of their women friends to worship at the Kotel, in particular to read from Torah scrolls there on Rosh Chodesh. They think of themselves as having defended their women friends against the שנאת חינם/sinat hinam — baseless hatred — of the ultra-Orthodox men who, with the help of the Israeli government, dominate the realm of Jewish worship at the Kotel. 

And I understand my friends. As a strong advocate for the rights of women in Judaism, I agree with my friends about the right of women to read Torah there. And a part of me wants to be out there too defending  them. But not the whole of me. At least not the me I am now. The me that just doesn’t want to have anything to do with a spirituality that puts violence into my worship of the greatest source of peace and wholeness, the Blessed Holy One.

Some Jews pushing and yelling at one another at a holy site — I don’t like it, but not even a little bit do I mean to compare it to the act of murder the Palestinian terrorist committed on this day. He desecrated not only the streets near the Kotel that became covered with blood of Eliyahu David Kay z’’l and he desecrated not only the Kotel itself, but also his own holy sites that sit above it, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

I wish for a day when no one, here in Jerusalem or anywhere else, feels that committing violence is a legitimate way to worship the holy one. While I know and respect the hunger to seek the closeness of the Blessed One at holy sites, I pray that people will see that holiness can be found in so many other places. That there are so many other places to seek communion with fellow worshippers. And that the most important place to search for the holiness of the Blessed One is by looking within.

About the Author
Alan Abrams is a spiritual care educator who made Aliyah in 2014. He and his wife live in Jerusalem with their two "sabra" children. Alan is the founder of HavLi and the HaKen Institute, spiritual care education and research centers based in Jerusalem. A rabbi, Alan received a PhD in May 2019 from NYU for his dissertation on the theology of pastoral care. He was a business journalist in his first career.
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