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Tisha b’Av Around the Walls of the Old City

Marching around Jerusalem's old city walls on the eve of Tisha b'Av. The Mount of Olives is in the background
Marching around Jerusalem’s old city walls on the eve of Tisha b’Av. The Mount of Olives is in the background

Saturday night, in observance of the fast of Tisha b’Av (Ninth of Av), I walked around the walls of Jerusalem, with more than a thousand other people. Our route took us past the New Gate, Damascus Gate, and Herod’s or the Flowers Gate. We stopped at the Lions’ Gate, once called St. Stephen’s Gate, to listen to some speeches.Then we continued past the Gate of Mercy, sometimes referred to as the Golden Gate. The official march ended at the Dung Gate, the closest one to the Kotel.

The Ninth of Av, known in Hebrew as Tisha b’Av, is a day of religious mourning for many tragedies in our history. The fast has become the day on which we mourn the destruction of Beitar in 135 CE and the horrors of the Crusades and the expulsion from Spain. But it is the destruction of the First and Second Temples that set the observance.

The destruction of the First Temple and the burning of Jerusalem by the Babylonians occurred on the Ninth of Av, 586 BCE. Eicha, the Biblical book of Lamentations, was written by the prophet Jeremiah to record the horrors of that period. It is this book we read on the evening of the fast. A little more than six hundred years later the Romans destroyed the Second Temple on the same date.

Women in Green revived the old practice of walking around Jerusalem’s walls on Tisha b’Av twenty years ago, in keeping with their motto, “The land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel.” People come to the public reading of Eicha in Independence Park. We then walk around the Old City, as an expression of love for the city and resolve to keep Jerusalem the eternal capital of the Jewish people.

The gates we walked past were familiar to me—I’ve often ridden by them on the bus. But the gates in the northern and eastern walls have been increasingly dangerous lately and I have not gone anywhere near them. I did approach the New Gate last month while on a walking tour of the Christian Quarter. It was constructed in the nineteenth century across the street from the Notre Dame Convent to give Christians living in the new city easy access to holy sites. Using this new opening, they could travel to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher without having to walk through the Muslim Quarter.

The Damascus Gate, about 500 meters east of the New Gate, has received much publicity in the last few months, most of it negative. As one of the gates into the Muslim Quarter, it has been the site of several terrorist attacks against both Jewish civilians and police. The Damascus Gate, called Sha’ar Shechem in Hebrew, offers the most direct route to the Kotel from the north. For this reason, religious Jews built Mea She’arim and several other neighborhoods close to it in the late 19th century. Their location put these neighborhoods directly on the border between Israel and Jordan after 1948. But since the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, residents of Mea She’arim once again walk to the Kotel through this gate.

For most of the time since 1967, the Damascus Gate has been peaceful. It is the largest and most beautifully decorated of all the gates to the Old City. About twenty years ago, Allen and I walked on top of the walls from the Jaffa Gate to the Damascus Gate. We then descended to below the level of today’s gate to see the remains of the Roman guard post and the base of the two thousand year old gate, under the present wall. I would not do that today without a well armed escort.

Chani in front of the Damascus Gate, also called Sha'ar Shechem
Chani in front of the Damascus Gate, also called Sha’ar Shechem

There were many border police along the route we walked. Three to five officers stood at almost every corner. Five of them stood on the other side of the barricade, watching as Chani, one of my guests for the weekend, posed for a photo near the Damascus Gate. Barricades prevented us from actually going down to the gate. It seemed to me, by the way the police looked at Chani, that their sole purpose Saturday night was to stop anyone from jumping over the fence and running down the stairs to the gate itself. But they didn’t stop me from taking her picture, and we moved on without incident.

The Tisha b’Av crowd continued to walk east on Sultan Suleiman Street. The wide street is named for Suleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Emperor responsible for rebuilding the city walls from 1536 to 1541. Opposite us, we could see small groups of Arabs who had gathered in the shadows at the ends of the intersecting streets to stare at us. A woman who had been on the march around the walls the last few years said that the Arabs had shouted at them as they walked on Sultan Suleiman. But this year they were quiet. For the most part, those marching talked quietly to each other. There was none of the provocative loud singing that accompanies Israelis when they march en masse into the Old City to the Kotel on Jerusalem Day or Independence Day. But then, Tisha b’Av is a day of fasting and mourning, not celebrating.

We walked past Herod’s Gate and around the northeast corner of the Old City. As we walked along the eastern base of the city wall, we could see the Mount of Olives rising out of the Kidron Valley to our left. Lights allowed us to identify buildings on top of the hill: the observatory tower at Hebrew University, the steeple of Augusta Victoria Hospital, the Seven Arches Hotel. The slopes of the cemetery on the Mount of Olives were visible in the light from the city walls.

At the Lions’ Gate we stopped for speeches by dignitaries. Chani and I found a spot to sit on the curb almost directly opposite the speakers. We were able to hear them clearly, without any echo. Speakers included Jerusalem’s deputy mayor Dov Kalmonivich, Deputy Minister of Defense Eli Dahan, and Member of Knesset (MK) Yehuda Glick. The speaker I remember the best, however, was Professor Arye Eldad, perhaps because after he spoke in Hebrew, he repeated it in English.

Dr. Eldad started by talking about the bronze bust of Hadrian, which was found forty years ago in Beit Shean. Every year his father, Prof. Eldad, went to the Israel Museum on Tisha b’ Av. He would stand in front of Hadrian’s bust and say “Nu? Nu? What do you say? Where is the great Roman Empire today? Where are we? Your bones are just dust, but we, we are here.”

He continued, the story is not simple, because although Hadrian did not destroy the Jewish spirit, he still hovers over us. He had wanted to destroy the memory of Jews from Jerusalem. Hadrian renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina and changed the name of the Roman province from Judea to Syria Palestina. The name still pursues us today. Eldad concluded, now we need to erase the name Palestine, and reclaim our name and our city.

From the Lions’ Gate, we continued along the eastern city wall. On this side of the city. The hill is too steep to see much of the wall. Although from a bus window, you can see the Gate of Mercy, standing in the roadway, you can’t.

Not that there is much to see. The Muslims closed the gate with large limestone blocks in 810 CE prevent the Moshiach (Messiah) from entering the city. This part of the wall, complete with its non-functioning gate, was still standing seven hundred years later when Suleiman included it in his new city wall. It remains standing today. No doubt it will still stand there when the Moshiach arrives at the End of Days, at which time it will miraculously open.

From the Kidron Valley, we turned west to walk along the southern wall up to the Dung Gate. It’s a steep climb. The hour being almost midnight helped us. We couldn’t see landmarks clearly, so did not realize just how long the climb is. With the coming of darkness, the temperature had dropped, so it was no longer as hot as it had been during the day. I was surprised when we arrived at the Dung Gate—I had expected the walk to take longer. Much longer.

Like many of the other participants in the march, we entered the Old City, and

Women's section of the Kotel at midnight on Tisha b'Av
Women’s section of the Kotel at midnight on Tisha b’Av

walked down to the Kotel. The plaza was crowded. The custom is to sit on the ground or on a low chair. Nevertheless, I was grateful to find a regular chair to sit on so I could rest my aching back and hips. A large group of men was singing quiet songs appropriate to the mood of the day. On our side of the mechitza, a large group of women was also singing. The voices blended in a beautiful harmony that put me in a contemplative mood. I’d have been willing to sit there for hours, listening, if I hadn’t been so tired. The idea of falling off my chair kept me just barely awake until my friends were ready to leave.

The number 1 bus picked us up at the exit from the Kotel Plaza. I watched out the window as we drove through the Dung Gate and past the Tanners’ Gate. Most people don’t know that this opening in the wall a short distance west of the Dung Gate even has a name. Built in the old walls in the middle ages, it was re-opened in the 1980s to relieve some of the press of traffic through the gate just to its east. Like the Damascus Gate, the Tanner’s Gate is for pedestrians only.

As we drove up the hill, we passed the Zion Gate, invisible from the road because of the curve of the slope. Although we drove along the western side of the Old City, the road curves away from the walls before it reaches the Jaffa Gate. But then the road curves again. I looked out the window and saw the New Gate, completing my circle. Even if I didn’t walk the whole way, I traveled past all the gates of city on Tisha B’Av.

Link to map of the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem, indicated by yellow stars. The Gate of Mercy is labeled Golden Gate , on the eastern side of the Old City. 

>https://www.google.co.il/maps/@31.7786535,35.2266621,15z/data=!4m2!10m1!1e1?hl=en

Ascending Selichot Prayers

Pigeons feeding at the Kotel plaza before Rosh Hashanah
Even the pigeons come to the Kotel early during the Selichot period

Through the open windows of our apartment on Ben Zion Street, on many holidays and Shabbatot, I would hear the prayers from the Carlebach minyan down the street. A Carlebach minyan is one that sings the prayers to the beautiful tunes written by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, of blessed memory. His settings of the prayers and psalms make them sound like joyous celebrations of life and the Creator—they are lively, and easy to learn and dance to. And dance the worshipers do, in the Orthodox fashion, men in the men’s section of the room, women in the women’s section, joining hands and moving in circles in time to the music. We go to the Carlebach minyan only occasionally, but on a Saturday night just before Rosh Hashanah we decided to go there for the Selichot prayers.

Our friend Aviel invited us to say Selichot at the Carlebach minyan with him. He said he had gone there last year and really enjoyed it. He warned us, however, that, like all Carlebach services, it would be long. Last year they had not finished until 2 AM.

Selichot prayers are special prayers said at the end of the year begging for G-d’s compassion as he decides our fate for the coming year. They are always said early in the morning, before the regular morning service. The custom among Sephardim is to recite them from the beginning of the month of Elul; Ashkenazim say them for the last five to ten days before Rosh Hashanah. The number of days varies because we always start reciting Selichot on a Sunday morning because G-d began the work of creation on the first day of the week. When Rosh Hashanah, which commemorates the creation of man, falls on a Monday, we start Selichot more than a full week beforehand in order to say them at least five days. And by early in the morning, I mean Early. The first set of Selichot are always said as early as possible—just after midnight Saturday.

When we lived in Pennsylvania, I had not often attended Selichot services. The congregation rushed through the prayers, and I could not keep up. I frequently lost my place or had to skip paragraphs to catch up to the parts said in unison. I felt like I got nothing out of them, and preferred to say them at home by myself at my own speed. But since the Carlebach group goes slower, I decided to go with Allen and Aviel. If I got too lost, or tired, I would go home and finish here.

I noticed one difference from most services immediately. The chazzan, the prayer leader, accompanied himself with a guitar. We started with a slow nigun, a wordless melody, which set the mood. With no words to learn, it was easy to pick up, and even someone like me, a newcomer to the group’s traditions, was singing along within a minute. When we stopped singing, the silence was complete and deep, waiting to be filled with prayer.

Psalm 145 acted as an introduction to the service. And then the chazzan recited the Kaddish, which praises G-d’s holiness, using the traditional High Holiday melody. Hearing the old familiar tune made me feel at home and opened my emotions to the prayers.

We went through the service at a pace that was comfortable for me. As is usual in Orthodox Jewish services, everyone recited the prayers quietly to themselves, and then the chazzan would repeat the last few lines of each hymn to keep the congregation together. But in a Carlebach minyan, the last few lines are sung to a lively tune, a different one for each prayer, and everyone joins in the singing. Many of the tunes go on as a wordless na-na-na following the last word, which gave me plenty of time to catch up and join in the singing.

In the first part of the service, after each hymn we recite a prayer praising G-d’s mercy, reminding ourselves that He is slow to anger, grants pardon for sins, and deals righteously with His people. And then we recite the ancient thirteen word formula He taught Moses (Exodus 34:6-7) when he begged G-d to forgive the people for the sin of the Golden Calf.

We repeated the formula several times during the service. Each repetition seemed louder and more unified than the previous one, as if we drew strength from our prayers. We knew we were relying on G-d’s promise to always forgive the people Israel when they recite the formula, the Thirteen Attributes of G-d: The Lord, the Lord, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth, Preserver of kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who cleanses.

The emotional peak of the service is the recitation of the vidui, the confession. It is phrased in the plural: ashamnu, we have been guilty, bogadnu, we have been treacherous, gozalnu, we have stolen. Because the number of possible sins is infinite, the list is alphabetical, one representative sin for each letter of the alphabet standing for all the transgressions that begin with that letter. It is up to each of us to determine how each applies to our own life in our private words to G-d.

By the end of the service I felt uplifted and energized. So I was very surprised when Allen told me as we walked home that it was after 2 AM. When I told my friend Ruth that I had not felt the time passing during Selichot, she said it was because Selichot are outside time.

After the first day of Selichot, the prayers are said before the

Women reciting Selichot at the Kotel, 5:30 AM
Women reciting Selichot at the Kotel, 5:30 AM

regular morning service. Many people go to the Kotel to recite them at dawn, and I decided to join them Monday. Unfortunately, I did not hear my alarm go off, and missed the 4:40 AM bus, so I didn’t get there until most groups had finished. But I could say the prayers myself.

I opened my book of Selichot and started. I was not very far into my prayers when I heard the shofar sound near me as a group finished their service. A moment later, another shofar, farther to the back sounded. The two shofarot did not give their calls in the same sequence. Their sounds did not clash, however, but blended. The beauty of their call brought tears to my eyes.

Despite not reciting the penitential prayers with a group, despite the lack of singing, my prayers at the Kotel affected me the way my prayers in the Sunday morning minyan had. They brought me closer to the Creator, and gave me peace.

Later that day, over lunch with my friend Debbie, we talked about the power of Selichot. She agreed with Ruth, that Selichot are indeed outside time. When we pay attention to the words, they engage us totally, pulling us away from time, towards the Creator. Full engagement is not just the mind; it includes the emotions as well.

“So,” Debbie asked, “did you cry?”

“Only two or three times.”

She nodded. We had both experienced the timeless power of Selichot.

Behind the Kotel Plaza

Children play on Jerusalem's Cardo. In background are original Roman/Byzantine wall and pavement. Photo: Yehudit Reishtein
Children play on Jerusalem’s Cardo. In background are original Roman/Byzantine wall and pavement. Photo: Yehudit Reishtein

For years the back of the Kotel Plaza at the Western Wall of the Temple Mount was been blocked off with temporary eight foot high metal barriers. I assumed the barriers were to protect people on the plaza from construction on the cliff rising up to the Jewish Quarter. But when Aish HaTorah’s new building was completed, the barriers remained.

Recently, I found out why. They surrounded an active  archeological dig.

Roman cities were built with two main streets. They had an east-west street and a north-south street, called a Cardo. When the Romans came to Jerusalem, they built new streets through the city. Their east-west street ran from the Jaffa Gate to the Temple Mount. Today’s David Street in the Christian Quarter, which continues as the Street of the Chain through the Muslim (Arab) Quarter follows its route. The north-south street ran from the Damascus Gate to the Zion Gate. This Cardo is one of the Jerusalem landmarks shown on the 5th century mosaic map of the Holy Land found on the wall of a church in Medaba, Jordan. 

During the reconstruction of the ruined Jewish Quarter after 1967, the original Roman-Byzantine Cardo was found. Part of it remains open to the air, and several reconstructed Roman columns stand in it. Part of it runs under more recent construction. The old roof was repaired, and new shops were opened within the stone framework of the ancient ones. Much of the pavement is modern. But near the entrance to the roofed Cardo is a wide area where you can see, and walk on, the ancient paving stones. One rainy day I was walking there and saw young children riding their tricycles and bimbas. Their mothers stood nearby, chatting with each other. No doubt they were glad to have  the dry place for their youngsters play outside. The Romans thought they had destroyed the Jewish people when they destroyed the Temple. I wondered, what they would have thought if they could see these Jewish children playing on their street, almost 2000 years later?

In Jerusalem, a secondary Cardo was built in the central valley that separated the Temple Mount from the western hill. The Medaba map clearly shows this street running along the side of Temple Mount. The Byzantines had not been able to rebuild the secondary Cardo. Too many huge boulders lay embedded in it from the earlier Roman destruction of the city.

This street was forgotten, hidden under centuries of other buildings and debris. During the reconstruction of the Jewish quarter after 1967, the archaeologist Roni Reich discovered this secondary Cardo while clearing the Kotel Plaza. But making the Jewish Quarter livable again and constructing homes were higher priority. Although no building was permitted in this area, it was not excavated either. It took 35 years before the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter was ready to allow archaeologists to explore the second Cardo.

Excavated secondary Cardo at back of Kotel Plaza. Photo: Yehudit Reishtein
Excavated secondary Cardo at back of Kotel Plaza. Arches are entrances to what were once small shops..
Photo: Yehudit Reishtein

When the archeologists did start work in the this part of the Kotel Plaza, they found remains and artifacts from the First Temple period through the 12th century. They determined that this part of Jerusalem had been an administrative and commercial center. Government functionaries and merchants worked here long before the Romans came to this side of the Mediterranean, and even before the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem.

 Today, before you can build anything or open a business, you need official approvals at many steps along the way, in the form of stamps and signatures. So it was in ancient times. Their stamps were made of clay, which made an impression on soft wax seals to indicate official approval. These clay stamps are called bullae, and hundreds of them were found in this excavation, primarily in the remains of a four room house built in typical First Temple period style.

When the First Temple stood, Jewish names usually included G-d’s name. Often the name ended with “-el” or “-yahu,” (Hebrew words for G-d), and many of the bullae were inscribed with such names.

Among other artifacts, excavators found a signet ring bearing the name Netanyahu ben Yoash. All artifacts found in archaeological digs belong by law to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), but the authority has lent this ring to the current Prime Minister,   Benjamin

Clay seal from 8th century BCE with name "Netanyahu" in ancient Hebrew writing.  Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority
Clay seal from 8th century BCE with name “Netanyahu” in ancient Hebrew writing. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

Netanyahu. He is said to keep it with him at all times. When challenged about Jewish rights in Israel, he pulls this bulla from his pocket as proof that Jews lived and worked here in Jerusalem over 2500 years ago. In showing this ring, Netanyahu is not trying to prove that his personal lineage in the land of Israel has been continuous since First Temple times. I’m sure he is well aware that his father changed the family name to Netanyahu. Rather, he is saying that Jews, carrying names that are still used by today’s Israelis, have been present in the land, and particularly in Jerusalem, for all this time.

While walking around the excavated area in the Kotel Plaza, I noticed some round holes in the stone pavement. They were the size of a large mixing bowl or a wash basin. Because they were cut into the stone of the street, they could not have been used for cooking, and because they were open to the air they would not have been used for water storage. I wondered if they had been used for dying cloth, but then rejected the idea. I was about to ask when the guide preempted my question.

“Did you see those round holes full of water? What do you think they are?”

No one answered him.

“These holes are much later than the street itself. They were used for dye. Cloth dying was always a trade practiced by Jews in Jerusalem. When Moses Maimonides came to Jerusalem in the 12th century, the only Jews he found in the city were dyers.”

Despite the Crusaders having banned Jews from the city, two Jewish dyers lived in Jerusalem in the late 1100s. Even in times when the authorities tried to keep Jews away from their holy places, the economic needs of the inhabitants could override their edicts. For the sake of clothes in nice colors, Jewish dyers were allowed to lived and work in Jerusalem.

I have visited the Kotel Plaza at least a hundred times, but I never realized so many additional links to our history were found under and around it. Discovering such unexpected links in what I felt were familiar places is one of the many things I love about living in Jerusalem.

 

Yom Yerushalayim at the Kotel

The Kotel, Western retaining wall of the Temple Mount
The Kotel, Western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, the holiest site that Jews are permitted to pray at

Around 4 AM Sunday, I woke up thinking, “I should go to the Kotel.”

It was Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the day that commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem. For nineteen years, the Old City of Jerusalem had been in the hands of the Jordanians, and no Jew had been allowed to enter. For nineteen years, we had been denied access to our holiest site. On 28 Iyar 5727, corresponding to June 7, 1967, the Jewish world thrilled to the voice of Colonel Motta Gur on the radio. “Har haBayit b’yadenu,” the Temple Mount is in our hands. The paratroopers had entered the Old City of Jerusalem and recaptured it from the Jordanians.

A week later, thousands of people celebrated the festival of Shavuot by coming to Kotel, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. It is the closest we can get to the site where the Temple once stood.

The Kotel is a short bus ride from our apartment. It seemed only right that I would start the day marking its return to Jewish hands by saying my morning prayers there.

The first Line 1 bus to the Kotel leaves the Egged parking lot daily at 4:40 AM. I had just enough time to get dressed, stuff my pockets with necessities, and walk to the bus stop. Necessities include my small siddur (prayer book), change for tzedaka (charity), bus pass, tissues, and phone. Putting everything in its assigned pockets took longer than dressing did.

I made it to the bus stop with two minutes to spare. Three women were already waiting there.

The bus wound its way through several religious neighborhoods, gradually filling up. About two-thirds of the passengers were women, many of whom started their prayers while on the bus. So periodically, we would answer “Amen” to blessings said loud enough to respond to. There is a tradition that we should say “Amen” one hundred times every day, a number difficult to attain if, like most women, you don’t pray in a synagogue three times a day. Some women make a practice of saying the fifteen morning blessings in the presence of other women to give them a running start on their daily one hundred. By the time we reached the Kotel, I had said “Amen” more than forty times.

As we approached the Damascus Gate to the Old City, the bus stopped. The Damascus Gate is the only one in the city walls that you approach by walking walk down steps. The steps are broad and arranged in a U-shape. Hundreds of young men sat on the steps on the two arms of the U. I counted about a dozen large Israeli flags. The woman next to me looked at the traffic and said, “It’s Yom Yerushalayim. It’s going to be a balagan.”

Balagan is a word Israelis borrowed from the Russians, who seem to have taken it from the Turks. It means messy or chaotic, in the sense of the Ringling Brothers three ring circus in your living room the day the rug cleaner is there and the teachers’ union is on strike.

By the time we arrived at the Dung Gate, the one closest to the Kotel, we were not surprised the bus had to wait before entering. But eventually it was allowed in, and we descended at the regular bus stop. Security was efficiently feeling women’s purses and tote bags. The line at the women’s entrance moved forward quickly.

Men praying at the Kotel, Yom Yerushalayim
Men praying at the Kotel, Yom Yerushalayim

While crossing the Kotel plaza, I took a quick peek at the men’s section. White plastic chairs were neatly arranged in rows from the Kotel all the way to the back of the prayer section. About three-fourths of them were occupied.

In the women’s section, chairs were scattered in a rough approximation of rows. Women occupied less than a quarter of them. I found a seat close to the Kotel and continued my prayers from where I had left off earlier.

About half way through the central Amidah prayer, I started crying, which surprised me. Not the tears themselves—I cry almost every time I go to the

Women praying at the Kotel, Yom Yerushalayim , 2015
Women praying at the Kotel, Yom Yerushalayim

Kotel. I cry in memory of my parents and grandparents who never had the chance to pray here. I cry for the soldiers who lost their lives to gain us the right to be here. Or for the future of the country, and what my grandchildren might have to face. Or for some those on my list of the sick in need of healing. I just don’t remember ever crying while saying the Amidah.

While I was praying, periodically I recognized a tune wafting over from the men’s side. They were all tunes from the Hallel, the Psalms said in praise of G-d for a miracle.

The recitation of Hallel on Israel Independence Day and Yom Yerushalayim is controversial. Several Chief Rabbis of Israel have endorsed saying it on these two holidays. They feel the establishment of the state and the reunification of Jerusalem could not have happened without direct intervention of G-d.

However, some of ultra-religious hold that Hallel should not be recited because these events were the work of man. The State of Israel should not be celebrated; rather we should wait for the Messiah to arrive and establish it.

Allen and I recite Hallel on both holidays. We look around us, and see ourselves surrounded by many Arab and Muslim countries that wish to destroy us. We agree with David Ben Gurion, who famously said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

When I finished saying the morning prayers, I went forward and leaned my head against the wall. Its stones were cool and smooth against my forehead and under my fingertips. After saying a few private words, I left the prayer section of the Kotel plaza, walking backwards so as not to turn my back on the holiness embodied there. I gave tzedaka to several of the women begging for coins, and put a few more coins in the box dedicated to maintenance of the Kotel.

I watched the swifts flying in circles above the worshipers, and the doves nesting in niches high on the wall. The caper bushes growing in the wall have small white flowers at this time of year—I had never noticed them before.

I joined the stream of people leaving the Kotel plaza. For every one walking away, three or four were coming in. It was 6:00.

I felt at peace.

Yom Yerushalyim, entrance to the Kotel Plaza in the early morning
Entrance to the Kotel Plaza