When Matt Lauer went to Jerusalem and placed Meredith Vieira’s prayer in the Western Wall of the ancient temple, I wonder if he had the same experience I did when I was in Jerusalem this past summer. First of all, I had to stand in line and wait my turn to get to the wall, and once there with prayers I brought from several people back in California, I discovered that not only was there almost no room for another prayer in any crack in the wall, but prayers were on the floor as well, getting stepped on and kicked around. No one seemed to notice.
I stood on my tip toes and reached as high as I could to locate a little bit of empty space for my tiny, folded up pieces of paper. Luckily, I am tall, so I managed to squeeze them in. My two children who are not as tall, had a more difficult time finding a crevice for their prayers.
Actually, the oddest thing I experienced there was the use of cell phones. Not only did I see women (I was on the woman’s side of the mechitsa – women are not allowed to be at the wall with the men) sitting in chairs chatting away on their phones, but no one seemed to flinch when someone’s cell phone actually rang while they were waiting their turn at the wall. I mean, really…There I was at one of the most spiritual religious sites for Jews, and someone was getting a phone call. They weren’t even embarrassed. They didn’t try to turn it off quickly. They just picked it up and started talking as they backed away, actually walking backwards so as not to be disrespectful and turn their back on the wall. Was it a call from God? Now that would have been worth answering anywhere.
When I entered the plaza on another day, still quite far away from the wall itself, I was accosted by a woman telling me I couldn’t even walk across the plaza in my sleeveless shirt and shorts. I wasn’t even planning to go up to the wall that day. She gave me some attractive (right) black pieces of material to cover myself, which I did. So, it’s not okay to even walk within 100 yards of the wall dressed inappropriately, but it is okay to receive and accept telephone calls within 10 feet of the actual Western wall? There’s something not quite right about that.
And, it’s okay to talk on the phone at the Western Wall, but it isn’t okay on Shabbat to dance and sing and celebrate the Sabbath? I didn’t understand that either, especially since my husband and son were on the other side of the mechitsa having a grand old time with a bunch of Carlebach followers and Orthodox Jews. There was my son dancing in the middle of the circle with a little Orthodox boy and my daughter and I, along with a few young women trying to get in on the Carlebach service, were getting shushed by some little old lady who didn’t like the ruckus. But it’s okay to have your cell phone ring? Well…maybe not on Shabbat.
I had a similar experience when in the northern part of Israel. We went to Safed to the great kabbalist Isaac Luria’s grave. Known as The Ari, many people go there to meditate and pray. So there I am with my family, and we are trying to be very respectful. Each of us stands along the tomb and closes our eyes and stand in silence. The silence, however, is broken by the man standing next to me having a conversation on his cell phone. Every once in a while I look over at him and give him a dirty look. I don’t want to be rude and tell him to put the phone away…well…I do, but I don’t. Then he takes the phone and holds it up to the grave and the person on the other side seemingly prays to the Ari via cell phone. Give me a break.
I wonder what the Ari thought of that. Did he hear the prayer and respond? Maybe next time I should save myself the cost of four tickets and send my friends who live in Safed down to The Ari’s grave with their cell phones, and I’ll pray via satellite all the way from Los Gatos, CA. Someone the experience just wouldn’t be the same.