Visiting the Western Wall (the Kotel) in Jerusalem — the holiest site in Judaism, and a destination for both Jewish and Christian pilgrims from around the world — is, for many, an emotional experience. The founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship), Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, once wrote about his personal experience.
“No matter how many times I visit the Kotel, I still feel a profound sense of awe each time,” he wrote. “I approach the Wall slowly, and kiss its cold stones. Tears of joy and thanksgiving to God, for granting me the privilege of returning to this holy place, flow down my cheek. I pray, as I have done repeatedly in the past, that I will return here, once again, to this Wall, my spiritual center.
“I take out a list of people from my pocket, mostly Christians, who have sent me their prayer requests and asked me to pray for them at the Wall. I am deeply moved by their having sent me their prayers, and by the prayers themselves, which are so heartfelt and inspiring. Some ask me to beseech God for divine healing for themselves or their families, some for a better job, others for more income, still others for better relations with their children or spouse. I was especially touched by those asking me to pray that God would bless Jerusalem with peace.
“I prayed for these people – hundreds of them – at this holiest of sites. And I felt privileged to do so. But I also felt inadequate to the task and humbled that these good people, Christians as well as Jews, would entrust me with such a profound mission.”
In fact, The Fellowship has formally carried on this mission for years with our Prayer at the Wall initiative. Every year, we ask our supporters to submit prayers so we can bring them before God at the Western Wall. It is one of the most meaningful ways in which we can show gratitude for our friends’ generous heart for Israel and the Jewish people, and each year we feel both privileged and deeply moved to be entrusted with this responsibility.
Anyone who has visited the Western Wall or has seen photos of it will note the thousands of pieces of paper stuck between its ancient stones. This is a tradition that has gone on for hundreds of years; writing down prayers which are then placed in the cracks of the Wall is a now-famous custom that began in the 18th century. When cracks in the Wall become full, the notes are removed to make room for more, though by Jewish law the old notes may not be thrown away. Instead, under the supervision of a rabbi, they are carefully buried at the Mount of Olives, just adjacent to Israel’s Old City.
There is a story about the Wall from Jewish tradition, concerning a young man named Azulai who lived in Morocco. One day, Azulai was told by his spiritual teacher that he needed to move to Israel. “And when you do arrive,” the teacher said, “here is a note that I want you to put into the Western Wall.”
Azulai diligently sewed the note into the lining of his jacket so he would be sure not to lose it. But when he arrived in Israel, he was so overcome by the sights and experiences that he forgot about the note.
Azulai soon began to struggle as he tried to find his place in Israel. As he walked home dejectedly one day, he remembered his spiritual teacher’s note. He ran home, took it from the lining of his jacket, and placed it into one of the cracks in the Western Wall.
As the story goes, his fortunes began to change. A local rabbi, seeing Azulai’s life had turned better, asked him, “What happened to prompt this change?” At first, Azulai could think of no reason for his blessings. But then he remembered the note he had placed in the Wall. The rabbi urged Azulai to retrieve and read it — and when he did he read this prayer: “Dear God, please let my student Azulai become successful in Israel.”
This story illustrates well the reverence with which the Western Wall is regarded by people of faith. It is difficult to describe the feelings of awe that surround a person praying at the Western Wall. For Jews, this is the center of the universe, the holiest place on earth — the site where God’s Temple once stood. This is why Jews direct their prayers toward the Temple no matter where they are.
Today, we invite you to be part of our extraordinary Prayer at the Wall effort, one of our most important traditions at The Fellowship. We will be honored to bring your prayers before God at this holiest of sites, the Western Wall. As we take your prayers to the Wall, we will also be praying for the needs of Israel and Jewish people around the world, and that God will continue to send us partners whose support allows us to continue our lifesaving outreach to suffering people. And what a joy it is for us to hear from people like you, as we do every year, that our prayers on your behalf have been answered!