EYEWITNESS TO HISTORY: Old Jerusalem inspiring even to non-believers Comment on this post ↓
September 9th, 2013 by Warren Swil

Energy at Western Wall is powerful

Blogger’s note: This is part of an ongoing series “Eyewitness to history” in which we will bring to readers news and features from across the Atlantic where the debate raging in America over the Middle East will play out in real time with real consequences.

Hundreds pray at the Western Wall on Monday around lunch time. The Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock is visible in the background. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

JERUSALEM – One does not need to be religious – Christian, Muslim or Jewish – to feel the cosmic energy at the Western Wall, from where one can see the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque.
It is a “holy place” in the broadest sense of the word.
The frequency of the vibe is unmistakable: it is so intense.
It was in the vicinity of the three holiest shrines of the three global religions that I met four fascinating folks whose stories epitomize the connectedness of the global village we all call planet Earth.
We share a common desire for peace for all mankind. We are all perplexed about why governments – supposedly representing us – continue to make war. The most commonly asked question: “When – and how – will the killing stop?”

IT WAS ANTON WOHLGEMUTH, a retired teacher from Basel, Switzerland who first told me about the shoot-out at the Temple Mount on Friday.
It was the first of three days on which he and his wife, Maria, tried unsuccessfully to visit the Temple Mount.

Anton Wohlgemuth, right, and his wife Maria of Basel, Switzerland, relax in the shade of a palm tree at the Western Wall on Monday. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

“It’s a very impressive atmosphere here, the combination of the three religions …” he said, resting in the shade of the noontime sun under a palm tree, smoking a cigarette. “I have been here before several times, but am disappointed with the situation now.”
On their first attempt on Friday, Wohlgemuth related, suddenly, while below in the Western Wall area, he heard shooting from the Temple, more than a hundred feet above.
Then, police quietly ordered the evacuation of the entire area, and the crowd exited the plaza in an orderly but fast fashion, he said.
“We could hear the shooting from here,” Wohlgemuth said. “The police told everyone to leave – fast.” And they did.
Later, David Bedein of the Israel Resource News Agency, filled in the details.
“Arabs were throwing Molotov cocktails from the Temple onto the Western Wall site,” Bedein said. “The police had to go up there and fire.”
Wohlgemuth surmised there might be a relationship to the crisis in Syria. “Radical Muslims may be trying to take advantage of the situation,” he said.
He visited Israel for the first time in 1972 – the same year I did – and is less satisfied this time. “Before, we could go anywhere without restrictions,” he said. “Not now.”

OUTSIDE THE TOURIST INFORMATION CENTER, however it was Shani Nahun, who works inside near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City, who gave me the most reassurance about the safety of the area – and the most remarkable insight of the visit.

Shani Nahun at work behind her computer near the Jaffa Gate on Monday in the Old City, Jerusalem. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

Asked about the Syrian crisis and how she felt, she said: “We are safe her. [Syrian President Bashar al-]Assad won’t hit Jerusalem. It is a holy city for all religions. He won’t want to hit the dome of the Rock [by accident],” she said.
According to Noble Sanctuary the Dome of the Rock was constructed as a mosque to commemorate the Prophet’s Night Journey.
After the Dome of the Rock was complete, construction began at the site of the original timber mosque built in the time of ‘Umar. “A vast congregational mosque rose up, accommodating more than five thousand worshippers,” the site says.
Today the mosque is known as Al-Aqsa and every Friday it overflows with worshipers who spill out and “must make their prayers outside in the courtyards of the vast open expanse of the Noble Sanctuary.”
Nahun, the tourist guide, holds dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, but doesn’t vote in American elections – just like half (or more) of all her fellow Americans. “I don’t know enough to voter in U.S. elections,” she sai, demonstrating wisdom far beyond her 27 years.

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE CAME from Elen Talis, an immigrant from Ukraine, who arrived as a 6-year-old with her family some 23 years ago, amidst a huge influx from the crumbling Soviet Union, where anti-Semitism was rampant.

Elen Talis, an immigrant from Ukraine, was in Jerusalem to visit the courthouse regarding her upcoming marriage to a rabbi. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

She was resting in the cool of an underground café, having just come from the courthouse where she had to provide evidence of both her parents’ Jewish ancestry in order to marry her finaceé, a rabbi.
“In the beginning it was very hard,” she confessed. “We didn’t know the language, and, at that time Israelis didn’t [like] people from the U.S.S.R. very well.”
Today, she works at a hotel near her home in suburban Tel Aviv. “Today, we have everything,” she said, even though still some in Israel look down upon Russian immigrants.
Her friend, Maytal Gothelf – who’s Hebrew name means “dew on the grass in the morning” – hails from suburban Philadelphia.
A senior in high school when her family arrived in Israel nine years ago, she had to get her GED online because attending school would have been futile: she could not speak the language.

Maytal Gothelf, who hails from suburban Philadelphia, stopped for a drink in an underground café on Monday. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

At age 20, she entered the Israeli Army, an experience she described as “so different from everyday life.”
It was not a cakewalk, Gothelf said, but added, with emphasis: “It is amazing, the things that I learned and the people I met. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

TRADESMAN SAID SAM, and his son Rami, 18, were sitting outside their tiny storefront on Ha Shalshelat – the main thoroughfare between the Western Wall and the Jaffa Gate – when I sat down between the two of them to rest on my way up the hill.
A member of a Bedouin tribe, the Jerusalem native, 53, bemoaned the lack of customers since the “troubles” broke out in Egypt and Syria two years ago.
“[Business] is much worse now,” he said, explaining the dearth of customers I witnessed first hand. “Every time there is a war, every time there is killing [it gets worse.]”
He also heard the shooting on Friday. “It happens often” he said, glumly.
He was reading Al-Quds, the Arabic local newspaper, whose headlines indeed were gloomy today.
I would never advocate reading less of the paper. The headlines are, indeed, bad enough today to make one feel glum. But a visit to the Western Wall is sufficient to restore one’s faith in the human spirit, and return, refreshed, invigorated, and ready to participate fully in what we call the human experience.

SAID SAM and his son Rafi, 18, sit outside their store awaiting scarce customers on Monday in Old City, Jerusalem. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

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4 Responses  
  • Gloria Cooper writes:
    September 9th, 2013

    It was very interesting to read the various ‘Spiritual Groups) reflections on the current situation in Isreal. Thank you, Warren!! Gloria

    • Warren writes:
      September 9th, 2013

      It’s a pleasure, Gloria.
      There is onlymone word for this place: AWESOME

  • Jean Barlin writes:
    September 10th, 2013

    Beautifully written and most interesting, Warren. Definitely an “awesome” country, as you put it. Unfortunately, those shootings and other occurrences, like rocket attacks, stonings etc. are not revealed to the rest of the world, but the brave people there live with it all on a daily basis.
    I look forward to reading about your other experiences soon.

  • Tiago de Sousa writes:
    June 3rd, 2016

    Nice to see Anton Mr. Wohlgemuth doing well. he was my first Teacher in switzerland at the WBS Baumlihof school.

    i was in his Classes learning the German Language.

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