After wandering around the Old City, the Jewish Quarter, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and viewing the Dome of the Rock I entered the Western Wall Plaza and took a tour of the tunnels under the wall. It turns out that there are all these hidden layers underground that have been, and are still being, excavated. The tour was remarkable and I highly recommend it.
Seeing the wall underground was one thing, but seeing it above ground was incredible. I was in awe. There was so much history all around me and everything was so beautiful. I stood there for quite some time, watching people who were praying and putting notes in between the stones (they do this in the hopes of enhance their chances of their wishes materializing). Many people facing the wall were in tears, which is presumably why some refer to the wall as the "Wailing Wall.”
I was snapping photos and taking it all in when I looked to my Right. I noticed a divider with women peering over the top of it (probably looking at me, now that I think back). It took only a second before I realized that I was entirely surrounded by men. It hadn't even crossed my mind that genders would be separated, but there I was, the dumb tourist, on the wrong side of the partition. I promptly turned around, walked over to the Women’s section and pretended like that mishap never occurred.
After doing some research, I learned that women are not allowed to mingle nor pray with men under Orthodox Jewish law, especially at the Western Wall (which is considered to be the holiest site in Judaism). I also learned that the section of the Western Wall set aside for prayer is about 60 meters long, only 12 meters of which are reserved for women. This is a bit of controversial topic at the moment and a group of activists are beginning to protest. They call themselves the Women of the Wall. Unfortunately, some women who have attempted to pray wherever they please have encountered violence from Orthodox men or even been arrested.
Luckily I made it out of the Western Wall Plaza unscathed, but I gotta tell ya…For a well-traveled women, sometimes I’m a real idiot!
Below are some tips for visiting Jerusalem:
The bus from Tel Aviv costs 19 Shekels and takes about 50 minutes (each way). Click here for more specifics.
Wear comfy shoes with good rubber soles. You’ll be walking a lot and the stones in the Old City are slippery.
Definitely take the Kotel Tunnel Tour. It was excellent! Book in advance.
Taking an organized walking tour is advisable.
Dress appropriately for the Western Wall (women must cover their elbows and legs).
Make sure you only approach the wall on your proper gender’s side!