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Praying at the Kotel

Morah Kim and Rabbi David Otero

October 7, 2023

Shabbat morning, October 7, my husband and I arrived at the Kotel to pray when we saw numerous people looking into the heavens. It was a small explosion overhead. I had a feeling that it was a rocket stopped by the Iron Dome, but we asked a gentleman nearby to confirm our suspicions and sadly we were right. We proceeded to our places to pray, David on the men’s side and me on the women’s side. About 15 minutes later, more bombs exploded overhead and the attendants of the Kotel were trying to usher everyone inside. Most left, but there were a few, including me, huddled near the mechitza (partition) that continued to pray.

The verse from Psalm 91:7 came to mind, “A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand; but it won’t come near you.” I felt the Lord strengthening me to continue in prayer. I wasn’t afraid at all, but it was clear that some were. It was supposed to be Simchat Torah that morning, but the men had removed all the Torah’s by the third barrage of exploded bombs overhead. It was supposed to be a time of unimaginable joy to conclude the time of our rejoicing on Sukkot, however, like a deflated balloon, you could almost feel the air leave the lungs of the hopeful.

The next few days, the Kotel was sparse with people, some 500,000 visitors that had come to the Kotel over the holiday week, the largest pilgrimage Jerusalem has ever seen, now numbered in the dozens! It was empty, just a few brave souls.

A few days later, after we realized that our flights were canceled, we decided we needed to do laundry since we weren’t sure how long we would be trapped in Israel with no way out. We went to a laundromat near Mea She’arim, the Orthodox section of Jerusalem. While waiting for our laundry to dry, the sirens blared telling us it was time to go inside, bombs were coming. Two teenage American girls came to check on their laundry, too. The youngest became very afraid talking to her mother on the phone, saying to us over and over frantically, “Can we get back? Do we have time to go back?” They didn’t want to be apart from their family. I can understand the sentiment and before I could respond that God is with you, they hurriedly dashed off. Once again, David and I were unphased by the goings on.

Right now, Thursday evening, October 12, we are sitting in our Airbnb apartment on Chabad street in the Old City, a five minute walk from the Kotel (an apartment we probably would never have been able to acquire had it not been for the mass exodus from here). We have heard reports that the Palestinians are calling on all the people to attack Israeli soldiers, etc., in and around the Al Aqsa Mosque tomorrow, Friday. In case you are unfamiliar with Israel’s topography, that is close to where we are. After watching a video in the Hurva (a famous Jewish synagogue in the Old City) about how the soldiers lost the skirmish to protect their people here, I must admit I was a little anxious today. I had said to David that when I was a young girl, I had always had a strange feeling that I should know all the streets in Jerusalem in case of emergency. This war is a sobering reminder.

Well Friday came and went without incident. The militant Muslims had called for a “flood,” but there was none. There was ample security. More security at the Kotel than I have seen times 5! It came to mind the Bible verse that says, “So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun; when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19). We praise God that the standard of our Messiah, the flag of the Kingdom that will never end, still waves over Israel.

Shabbat morning, October 14 there were more people than we had seen in the previous week at the Kotel. Still seemed barren though, maybe about 100 total between the men and women’s sides. That evening, we went to the wall again to see them do Havdalah which was nice. After which we went to one of the few open restaurants here. Jerusalem has been pretty shut down, even the stores and restaurants that are open are open with limited hours and a truncated menu.

We witnessed at the restaurant near us an altercation between two Israelis. Not sure what caused it, but a guy was punched, thrown over the tables by what appeared to be a worker in an apron. The worker then held a chair over his head like he was going to smash him over the head, screaming and yelling. The police, out in full force, came and broke it up as people tried to calm the worker down.

This would have seemed like an isolated incident, but the next morning, David and I went to our favorite bagel place to get frappuccinos. While eating peacefully next to a large group of Americans with half a dozen kids between them an American lady arrived to pick up her previously ordered bagels. The girl at the counter had no idea what she was talking about and apparently told her that she couldn’t give her the bagels as there was a limited supply due to the war. The Jewish American lady became irate! She yelled obscenities about Israelis, cursed the business and Israel, accused them of discrimination, etc.

The girl behind the counter who I had met the day earlier, had a really good English accent. I said, “Are you American?” She told me, “No, her parents are American, she is Israeli.” All that to say, she understood full well all of the curses being laid against her personally, her country, and her people. David tried to get involved and reason with the crazy American Jew, saying, “Is it worth all of this for a dozen bagels?” She then cursed him too obscenely and then one of the Americans said, “Listen, there are children around.” In the midst of this yelling match, the young Israeli worker lashed out to attack the American saying, “I have a brother on the front lines, and a friend wounded in the hospital…” Her sentiment was as clear as David’s logic, but no matter how many people tried to talk to this lady she wouldn’t listen. She said, “The Israelis are worse than the Arabs,” etc. It was surreal. The Israeli girl was crying, clearly traumatized. I went over and hugged her and spoke a blessing on her family. David did so as well to the other worker, a young gentleman.

I told David that we need to pray walk around this town. Tensions are high. Americans and others can’t get home. Flights are cancelled, etc. and it is a huge personal expense to be here longer than one has intended. We are in that same boat; however, we know that nothing is coincidental, only God-incidental. So please pray for not just the war effort, victory, protection, etc., but also pray for tender hearts toward each other, a compassionate spirit, and mercy and grace to abound.

I can say that even before arriving in Israel my impression of Israelis is that they are a little rough around the edges. As Americans, we generally expect politeness; it is a part of our culture. Not so much here. It is a take what you can get culture. This is very disheartening to me personally, as we all know that the Spirit of the Mashiach is a welcoming spirit. When Messiah comes again to bring back all the exiles what do you think is going to happen? There will be millions of people in Jerusalem, more than ever before! This attitude cannot be the order of the day. We need to make room in our homes, hearts, minds, spaces, for others. It is the Messianic way, and in this we need to lead the charge. As Messiah said in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” This cannot be a nice sentiment on a bumper sticker, it must be a life’s pursuit.

When I was in high school, during a conflict mediation class, I learned something very valuable, a lesson that I have never forgotten. All anger comes from fear, hurt, frustration, and unmet expectations. This is why in Israel right now there are so many eruptions of anger. People are afraid for friends and loved ones. People are hurt at constantly walking down alleyways not sure if the person approaching you is a friend or foe. I have to admit, walking near the Arab quarter has given me some pause, and at times made me uncomfortable. I can only imagine what it is to live this way every day.

Israelis are frustrated that there seems to be no real solution to the wars and rumors of wars, and in truth there isn’t a solution without the One who is the repairer of every breach, Yeshua! The devil is trying to release an angry spirit, a fearful spirit, a stingy spirit over the land of Israel and its people, to sour its heritage and its portion. We must pray against this most of all. War is temporal, but the ground stolen by the enemy, the hearts, and minds of God’s people, is the real prize for the adversary. May HaShem close every open door to the evil one and make all our souls prosper.

Despite all the goings on, I have been thinking over and over again about Rebbe Nachman’s quote which was turned into a famous Israeli song, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing to recall is not to be afraid at all.” The illusion of this life is that we are all walking on a smooth, straight, sturdy, wide bridge until something happens that shakes that illusion. It is in those times that we are reminded of our frailty, that we are but dust.

Oddly enough, the message of Sukkot is exactly that, the shell of this world is nothingness, the only thing that matters is the life lived inside it. Yeshua arrived in that same shell to remind us that our klipa (our shells, our bodies) are but temporary, we need to build a kingdom that will last. Only a spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of our Messiah, will endure. The only way to push forward, to repair the world, to promote peace and love, to build something that will outlast you, is to have no fear! Fear pulls us back when we should push forward. I am encouraging my heart with this truth.

We need to allow the Lord to clean us of any anger that breeds fear, hurt, frustration, etc. so that we can be a pure vessel for His service. 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” Many seem to need this reminder, too.

So, for those who are praying, interceding, pressing into heaven on behalf of all those who have had their illusions shattered here, let us remember to have no fear in the battles we are facing. God is with us wherever we go. His eyes are always on His people, the apple of His eye. May He answer our prayer spoken only a few days ago, “Hoshia na,” (save now)!

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