Dan McCullough  |  Cape Cod Times

The city of Jerusalem is certainly one of the holiest places on Earth. Regardless of your religious beliefs, you can feel the vibrations as you travel through the city, especially in the part called “The Old City.”

The walls of The Old City confine an area that approximates the location of the city as it existed a couple of thousand years ago. It is dark with narrow streets and shopkeepers in little stalls selling everything from cheap jewelry to hanging dead goats and chickens, pastry and running shoes. Outside The Old City, everything is 2021, with traffic lights, high-rise hotels, modern parks, pizza parlors, and high-end clothing stores with mannequins in the front windows clad in the latest fashions from Milan and Paris.

For me and for many others, the spiritual center of The Old City is the Western Wall, once called the “Wailing Wall.” It probably was so named by English-speaking visitors who mistook the normal chanting style of Jewish oral praying for some kind of lamentation or weeping.

The site of the temple in Jerusalem is the holiest place in the world for Jews, most Christians and millions of Muslims. The first temple was built by King Solomon around 1000 B.C. and was destroyed by the Babylonians around 587 B.C., whereupon the Babylonians took the Jews in captive slavery to Babylon, keeping them there for approximately 70 years.

When the Jews returned to Jerusalem, the first major task they began was the rebuilding of the first temple. This structure became known as the Second Temple and was the temple where the Jewish rabbi known as Jesus of Nazareth worshipped and preached. This Second Temple was refurbished by Herod the Great after it was damaged in 167 B.C. during the Maccabean Revolt of the Jews against the Greek Antiochus IV.

It was finally destroyed by the Romans around 70 A.D. and has never been rebuilt. However, the Western Wall of that second temple still stands and it is this place that is the holiest spot in Jerusalem. Holy to Jews for obvious reasons, holy to Christians because, of course, it was the temple of Jesus. The site, known as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, is also the site from whence Mohammed ascended into Heaven to chat with God about his plans for a new tradition of religious practice, so the place is also sacred to Muslims.

If you stand at this place, sacred to billions over the time period of the past 2,000 years, you can feel something: call it a vibration, or what you will, but something special is happening there.

I have traveled to Jerusalem many times over the past 25 years or so, and I certainly have been to the Western Wall of the Second Temple at least 50 times.

The stones that make up the wall here are very large, the smaller ones are the size of a commercial pizza oven, the larger ones the size of a small bus or van.

There is a tradition among visitors to the wall to write prayers, petitions or secrets on small pieces of paper, and upon getting to Jerusalem and visiting the wall, to crumple these tiny pieces of paper into tiny packets, stuff them in between the crevices in the wall and then pray over them, or not.

As I said, I’ve been to the Western Wall scores of times, and have tucked many messages into those spaces between the stones. There are people reading this column whose names I have delivered to the wall. I once saw a man standing next to me tuck a piece of paper into the wall, and then fall on his knees to the stony pavement in prayer. Several years ago, not long after sunrise, I was at the wall, praying alone. A woman a few feet away began to cry out loud her tear-streaked plaints echoing across the empty plaza around us against the wall.

As I turned and looked, I could see her stuffing a tiny child’s toy into a crevice in the wall. It was a very powerful moment for me. We never spoke, but when our eyes met and she saw a parent’s tears in my own eyes, I hope she understood that she was not alone.

There are many tears being shed these days in Jerusalem and the territories occupied throughout and surrounding the country of Israel. Most of these tears shed this past week or two have to do with military conflicts ongoing between the northwest corner of the State of Israel and the northeast corner of Egypt, an area long known as the Gaza Strip, or simply Gaza. The capital of this political entity is today called Gaza City. The whole territory is claimed by the State of Palestine, and is de facto administrated by the political party Hamas, described by the State of Israel as a terrorist organization.

A week or two ago, rockets began to fly back and forth between Gaza and Israel, and the bombing has continued day and night. My son and I have traveled through Gaza many times and we’ve been through the sites that are today being bombed in Israel by Gaza rockets. Many Americans (myself included) are pleading with U.S. President Biden to urge Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to engage in fostering a cease-fire between the two combatants, as we pray that no more children’s toys are stuffed in the destroyed stone walls of bombsites.

Dan McCullough is a Cape Cod Times columnist. E-mail him at [email protected] or write him at P.O. Box 2813, Orleans, MA 02653.

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