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NUMBER 12 — FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2008 (special Shabat suppliment)

Walking to the wall, Muslim quarter, and Sabbath

After our days’ touring ended, Gary and Elizabeth offered to lead anyone who wanted to go on a 25-minute walk to the Western Wall to observe the Shabbat celebration and worship at the Western Wall, sometimes in the past called the Wailing Wall by non-Jews. As we drove back to the hotel following the tour, we saw orthodox Jews hurrying toward the Old City. They were dressed according to the particular sect to which belonged. Each sect’s clothing, our guide told us, depended upon which rabbi they followed.

The Jews from various geographical locations have varying customs, and their dress reflects their ethnic and rabbinic traditions. Some we saw wore black fur hats to the Wall; some wore black, wide-brimmed top-hats. Some wore white stockings below short pants; others wore long black coats. A few even wore gold coats, their special Shabbat dress. Most of the women wore clothes based on black, and most of them had some sort of hair-covering. Some covered all their hair; others simply had a scarf that covered it in part.

Muslim quarter

I could not have imagined the experience we had walking to the Wall. To reach it, we had to walk through the Muslim quarters. Today, of course, being Friday, had been the Muslim’s holy day. In fact, traffic was in a dreadful snarl, and we had to wait a half hour on the side of a street for our bus to reach us after our walk down from the Mount of Olives because of the crush of cars following the noon Muslim prayers on their holy day.

By sundown, however, their holy day was over, and the open-air shops were opening for business as we walked to the Old City. At first we passed pungent-smelling stores with open displays of fruits and vegetables punctuated by noisy children, and diesel exhaust. After maneuvering our way through the foot traffic and cars that crowded the streets, we entered the old city.

In total amazement I tried to take in what I was experiencing. The Inrigs had told us to stick together and hurry. That was no easy task, because as we entered Old Jerusalem, we were no longer in the open air. We were walking on ancient, worn-shiny paving stones inside huge vaulted passageways lined with shop after dirty shop. At first the shops were selling vegetables and fruits and fresh herbs which we could smell as we hurried past. The deeper we went into the passageways, however, the more the stores changed. We began to see all kinds of shops: baked-goods, dry goods, pharmacies. Each one was a small cubicle which opened onto the street.

As we hugged the right side of the street (which was a foot street, not primarily a vehicle street—it seemed no vehicles could have fit, and these were the ancient streets of the city), Jews of all ages—mostly men but there were some women—hurried past us going the opposite direction after they finished praying. The juxtaposition of the dirty shops, the Muslim men and a few women and the children sitting or shouting around their shops, the ultra-Orthodox Jews in their severe black suits and hats with white shirts and their earlocks rushing past, obviously in tune with each other but studiously ignoring the Muslim confusion around them—the whole thing left me stunned. In addition, there were the armed guards and policemen we passed periodically.

Richard and I hurried to keep up, trying desperately to see everything. I kept seeing the Ottoman-period vaulted ceilings and stone street, realizing I was seeing and walking on centuries and centuries of history—and in many ways, the life living itself out along these streets was the same as has always been here.

The Western Wall on Sabbath

When we arrived at the wall, we saw hundred of orthodox men praying, chanting, or sitting under the instruction of a rabbi in the area set up behind fences in the “presence” of the wall. There is also a women’s section, and we were allowed to walk into our gender-respective areas and observe. I walked up to the wall and realized that the women also pray from the Jewish book of prayer, singing or chanting their prayers as do the men. A couple of groups of young women or girls were dancing and singing.

I stood on a chair with many other women and looked over the fence at the men. There were far more of them, and they tended to group themselves according to their particular sect. Richard learned from one Jewish man who talked to him and some other men from our group that the swaying they do as they pray is because of the passage in the Bible which literally translates “praise God with all your bones.” Thus, they move their bodies as they pray.

Perhaps the two most overwhelming impressions I had were these:

First, the Jews CELEBRATE Sabbath. They are not there in dread or bored duty. To them, Sabbath is a true delight, a gift, a mark of their relationship with God. They dance, talk, sing—the atmosphere could not be more different from the Sabbaths we knew in Adventism. The whole “event” at the wall has a huge social component. This is a religious holiday!

Second, I felt deep sadness. These people do not know Jesus. When I walked up to the wall among the praying women, I prayed that the Lord Jesus would un-harden these deeply religious people and reveal Himself to them. I prayed that they would come to know Him.

Tomorrow at 6:10 the Inrigs are walking again with those who wish to go to the Western Wall, but this time early in the morning when everything is quiet and the Muslim shops have not yet opened for business. We will be able to walk on the Via Dolorosa before it gets “noisy”.

The morning walk is only about seven hours away—so I must post this and get some sleep.

Shabbat Shalom to you all…and praise God for Jesus who has fulfilled the law and IS our Sabbath rest!


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No photographs were taken.