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Devotion at Dawn

Leah Gebber

“I didn’t come for a miracle. I came to be close to Hashem. And that is the biggest yeshuah of all.” This sentiment, shared by one of the regulars of the neitz minyan at the Kosel, encapsulates the desire that drives dozens of woman to make their way to the ancient wall in the stillness of the night

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

kotelNight never falls at the Kosel.

It’s 4:45 a.m. The muezzin’s call vibrates through the air, summoning Muslims to prayer. In these days of rachamim v’selichah, though, there is competition: the Yemenites’ fluted shofros trumpet our proud allegiance.

I pick my way across the stones with care; they are still wet from their nightly dowsing. I hug myself against the Elul chill. I am here to join a group of women who rise from their beds this time every morning — they walk, bus, or drive to join the rising sun in its song of praise and thanksgiving at the holiest spot on earth.

I head for the Kosel tunnels. During the day, this is the hub of tourists, who marvel atWilson’s Arch and the Room of the Hasmoneans. Until 8:30 a.m., though, the tunnels are open to the faithful, who bask in the opportunity to pray in the spot closest to the Kodesh HaKadoshim.

The tunnels are eerily silent. I walk in deeper, deeper, until the air is warm and moist, the only relief given by huge metal wall fans. Down a small flight of stairs, I encounter the largest brick of the Kosel: at over 500 metric tons and 20 feet above then-street level, the rock’s placement in the Wall is an engineering mystery. A woman just in front of me stops, lays her head against the ancient stone. Perhaps she senses me watch her, for she turns around. “Deep in the walls, that is where we can find our deepest self,” she says.

I pass the large Teimani minyan, led by the legendary ascetic Rav Ades, continuing through the gloom until I reach a cluster of women. They stand at the spot directly opposite the Kodesh HaKadoshim. The stones in front of me are moist, as if the wall itself is crying over the desolation of its people.

Here, deep underground, it’s easy to chisel away the layers of stone that surround our hearts. Women cry, shaking silently. Others rest their arms on the wall, burying their heads as they whisper supplications. A woman bedecked in a tall lace turban sways from side to side as she says the Breslover “Tikun Klali.” It is not yet time to pray, and so the women immerse themselves in their individuated routes to G-d — one says Perek Shirah, another recites Nishmas, many thumb through their sifrei Tehillim.

And then, it is time. 


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