No visit to the Holy Land would be worth its weight in shekels without going to the Temple in Jerusalem, the center of religious practice for Jesus and his Jewish family. Jesus was brought there when he was but a few days old to be circumcised. His family, we are told, went to Jerusalem every year to celebrate the feast of the Passover. One time, he was left behind as his parents started out for home. We’ve come to associate this story with the Jewish practice of Bar Mitzvah when boys ritually enter manhood in the faith. Parents are always a bit relieved when they can point out to their children that the last line of the story reads: “Jesus went back to Nazareth with his parents and was obedient to them.”
After Jesus began his ministry, there are numerous stories centered around the Temple, including the one when he turned over tables and drove out the money changers. This monument of his faith meant a lot to Jesus. It is important to Christians because it was important to him.
The temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Never again were the Jews able to worship in their sacred place again. Today, only the western wall still stands where Jews go to remember and to pray. Our St. George College pilgrims went there on the tenth day of our journey. It was an honor to be able to be there with the faithful ones as they prayed and placed their petitions on little pieces of paper and stuck them between the stones in the Wailing Wall.
There is a secondary wall that divides the men worshipers from the women. As guests, we too had to separate by the sexes. The division was not disturbing to me except that we on the women’s side were not able to witness a ritual bar mitsvah taking place on the other side of the wall. Women, even the mother and sisters of the boy being celebrated had to settle for listening to the prayers. But their being prevented from the full experience is the only thing that bothered me that sunny warm day at the ancient wall of the Temple. It was joyful to be there with the women, sitting on folding chairs, little children playing around them. They were clustered in groups of friends, passing the afternoon with one another as much as with God.
There were women at the wall praying. It was hard to get close, but eventually I found an open space where I slipped my piece of paper into a small crack in the wall. Then I went and sat down to watch and listen. One little girl about four, was holding a copy of the Jewish bible rocking back and forth like she might have seen her older brother or her father do. I thought of my first communion picture, holding my prayer book and rosary, smiling proudly under my veil.