This past Tuesday evening I intended to get to bed early in order to be able to get to the CY by 7:15 the next morning. At that hour I planned to get on a bus arranged by the Yeshiva to take us safely (there and back) to what some refer to as “the liberated Kotel,” near Robinson’s Arch. The necessity for the bus is sadly due to the current security situation. There is a tradition at the CY to davven there once a week, weather permitting. This part of the Kotel is an extension of the Western Wall that is used by many in the liberal Jewish community, to pray according to our own traditions, and where women participate fully as leaders and are counted in a minyan. I intended to be out the door in time to take my fast paced, cardio-pumping, uphill morning walk to school.
As the saying goes, “the best laid plans…” I went to bed very late, decided to skip it, and set my alarm for my normal wake-up time. For some inexplicable reason I woke up way too early, 5AM, to very strange sounds seemingly surrounding my street; sounds I had not heard since my arrival three weeks ago. At first it made me nervous. Was something going on? Should I force myself to get out of bed and look around? I decided to relax and tune into the sound. After a few minutes I began to understand what it was. The crisp morning air was acting like a giant microphone, carrying the sound of a Muezzin to my neighborhood. For a short while I wondered where it was coming from but then let go and simply listened.
The Muezzin called, “Allah hoo Akbar.” It may have been a recording, but nevertheless the singing was beautiful. Of course many of us have terrible associations with these words but that morning I allowed them to seep in and stir me. The words mean “God is Great.” We have equivalent expressions in Jewish liturgy.
I felt specifically called by this man’s voice to get up and go pray at the Kotel. And then I had a thought. How amazing would it be if a Muezzin, whose task is to call Muslims to prayer, stood on the top of a minaret on the Temple Mount,** (known as The Noble Sanctuary by Muslims), to call not only his people but ALL people of faith to come pray in their own holy places near that site? What if Muslims, Jews and Christians hearing the call, began walking toward Al Aqsa, the Western Wall, and the many churches inside the Old City? We would all respond to the same call: God is Great, Barchu et Adoshem HaM’vorach, Blessed be G!d, the Source of All Blessing, and the many sects of Christianity with their specific callings. What if we could hear each other praying? What is Zecharia’s vision that Jews pray for three times a day in the Aleynu if not the hope for the realization of this thought? “And on that day, there will be One G!d and G!d’s Name will be One.” We all call out to the same G!d. Isaiah 56:6 says, “Even them (the strangers) will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them rejoice in My house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar; for My House (The Temple) shall be called a House of prayer for all peoples.”
On the bus to the Kotel, Rabbi Joel asked who was going to lead our davvening that morning. My friend Phil volunteered to lead Psukei d’Zimra and I heard myself say, “I’ll lead Shachrit” (the Morning service). So, there I was, for the first time in my 65 years, leading services at the holiest of Jewish sites, often putting my hand out to touch the Wall, leaning my face and forehead against it, feeling my roots go down 2000 plus years, and allowing my voice to do what it wanted to do – pray with my Whole Self, to feel free in a way I never have at the “unliberated” Kotel. It was amazing. Every so often I would look up toward the Temple Mount and see the sun light shining from where I knew Muslims were also at prayer. I hoped and imagined many of them praying for salaam/shalom/wholeness and peace. Here were we, praying at the Wall that is literally part of the structure that holds up The Noble Sanctuary, The Temple Mount. They are intimately connected. The Mount cannot exist without the Wall, and without the Mount, the Wall would be a ruin and not a living, dynamic holy place. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” Let there be prayers from all sectors for tolerance and a vision of peaceful coexistence here in Jerusalem.
**For those readers who may not be aware, this is the place where the Jewish Temple stood over 2000 years ago and where the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque stand today. The Western Wall is below.
Rabbinical Student at Hebrew College