Every year, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) takes prayers from our Christian supporters to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the holiest site in all Judaism. It is one way we can return the blessing of their ongoing support and prayers for Jews in need around the world. When we arrive at this holy site, we offer prayers and supplications to God — as people have done for centuries.
But why does the Western Wall hold such significance? Why do Jews — and many Christians, as well — come from around the world to pray here? The answers to these questions go to the heart of Jewish faith and history.
The Western Wall (or the Kotel, as it is known in Hebrew) is the only remaining wall of the Second Jewish Temple that once stood on this site before it was destroyed when the Romans laid siege to Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. The Wall is also the location closest to the Temple Mount — the location of both the First and the Second Holy Temples — where Jews are permitted to pray today. (Though Jews may visit the Temple Mount, they are forbidden to pray there).
When King Solomon dedicated the First Temple (chronicled in the Bible in 1 Kings chapter 8), he designated it as a space where God would dwell forever. He also said that whenever a person prayed toward the Temple, God would hear their prayers. Thus, Jews believe that all prayers enter heaven through the Western Wall, and that all blessings pass from the heavens, through the Western Wall, and then to the world, as it says in Psalm 128:5: “May the LORD bless you from Zion.”
This is why Jews face Jerusalem when praying. Every synagogue in the world is built facing Jerusalem. When in Jerusalem, we face the Temple Mount, and when we are at the Wall, we feel closest to God’s divine presence.
There is speculation as to why the Romans would have left this one retaining wall standing when they had razed the Temple. Some say they simply didn’t see the Wall to be of any special significance, so they let it stand. But, because of the sanctity of this place, others see in it an act of divine providence, pointing to the story from Jewish tradition that the Temple was so precious in God’s eyes that it could never be entirely destroyed.
For centuries, Jews who have made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem have come to pray at the wall, and to cry there over the destruction of the Temples and the exile of the Jewish people from their land. As a result, non-Jews began referring to it as the Wailing Wall, though this name is considered derogatory and is not used by Jews.
There have been times, even in modern history, when Jews have been forcibly separated from this holy site. During Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the area of the Western Wall, were occupied by Jordan. The following year Jordan signed an Armistice Agreement guaranteeing Jews “free access to the Holy Places and cultural institutions” that were now under Jordanian control, but never honored the agreement. For 19 years Jews were entirely denied access to this holy site that holds such significance for their faith.
This changed in 1967. Undoubtedly, the most poignant moment of the 1967 Six-Day War was when the Western Wall was liberated. Jews alive today who are old enough to remember that war have indelibly imprinted in their minds the stirring, iconic image captured in the famous photograph of the Israeli soldiers praying and crying over the liberation of the Wall. Jews take pride in the fact that, to celebrate their victory, Israeli soldiers came to the Wall to pray to God.
It was only after that war that the Western Wall plaza — the large, open public space paved with stone that faces the Wall — was built. Prior to that, the area adjacent to the Wall was just a narrow. 12-foot-wide alleyway in a Muslim neighborhood.
Day and night, you will find Jews, and often Christians, from all over the world praying at the Western Wall. Thousands of people put notes upon which are written heartfelt prayers into the cracks in the Wall. Many report that they have a unique sense of God’s presence there. This is why The Fellowship’s call to bring prayers to the Western Wall is one of the most popular efforts the organization holds every year.
For many of The Fellowship’s Christian friends who are not able to visit the Holy Land, taking their prayers to the Western Wall fulfills a lifelong dream of praying in this holy place. This year, we are bringing thousands of prayers for healing, financial blessings, and spiritual breakthroughs, among many other requests. And as we pray on their behalf, we look forward to many testimonies of answered prayer, like King David experienced: “I cried to my God for help. From his temple He heard my voice, my cry came before him, into his ears” (Psalm 128:5).