Two years ago, I made the 40 day pilgrimage to the kotel, and at the end of the 40 days, I wrote this letter to the Rav Ha’Kotel:
Dear Rabbi Rabinovitch:
Eighteen years ago, a young mother from the United States visited Israel for the first time. The moment she arrived to the kotel, she wept for her daughter, who had, only months before, lost the ability to walk. As her tears fell on the wall, she prayed that Gd heal her daughter and that He bring her love, happiness and success.
This woman was my mother, and the daughter she wept for was me. My mother’s prayers were heard and, at some level, were answered. While still confined to a wheelchair, I am one of the physically strongest and most independent individuals ever diagnosed with my disability. A year ago, I made aliyah from the United States to Jerusalem by myself. I, now, live in a beautiful apartment in the German Colony, work as an attorney and have been blessed with many wonderful friendships here in Israel. Gd has certainly granted me happiness and success.
My mother continues to tearfully pray for my refuah shlema and my zivug today, only she does so from Cleveland, Ohio. I, however, pray daily from the place she originally cried out this prayer, the kotel. Since the First of Av, I have made the trek to the kotel every day, with the intention of going for forty days.
I visit the kotel daily to make the very prayer for myself that my mother made for me eighteen years ago. However, much to my disappointment, I am often unable to even complete the Amida without being harassed by the women begging for tzadakkah at the kotel. One of my first days at the kotel, one of the women approached me to tell me that I am disabled and not in good health because I do not always wear long sleeves and stockings, because I watch television and listen to music and because I do not give tzadakkah every day at the kotel. As the tears welled up in my eyes, another woman praying at the kotel rebuked her and demanded that she leave me alone. However, this woman’s judgmental words were followed only by another’s.
Since that day, the harassment has continued on an almost daily basis. One day, several of the beggars circled me as I was davening, each touching me and then extending their hands for charity. Last week, a woman approached me while I was davening the amida and continuously touched me on the arm. Due to her dissatisfaction in my refusal to acknowledge her presence, she pushed me and prevented me from bowing when saying “oseh shalom bimromav, hu yaseh shalom alenu, v’al col israel vimru amen” – “He Who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us, and upon all Israel. Now respond: Amen.” And, today, a woman approached me as I was crying at the wall and stated, “le’refuah shlema, tni li tzadakkah” – “for good health, give me charity.”
Many of our prayers are modeled around that of Hannah’s, who wept and prayed with such kevana that she was mistaken for a drunken woman. While we no longer have the beit ha’mikdash, in which to cry out to Gd, we have the kotel. Jewish men and women, alike, should be able to daven the amida, say tehilim, recite the Shema and wail at the wailing wall without the fear of being harassed, judged, intimidated, touched or humiliated. To that end, I believe that aggressive begging, or simply begging, itself, should be prohibited in both the men’s and women’s sections at the kotel. Both sections should have guards enforcing such a prohibition, such to prevent the treatment I have endured over the last 36 days. While I have not been privileged enough to enjoy a peaceful 40 day pilgrimage to the kotel, I pray that, please Gd, others, soon, will be able to enjoy the ability to weep like Hannah did without the fear of their prayers being interrupted.
Today, beggars are no longer permitted within the prayer section of the kotel, and, if they are caught, they are barred entry to the kotel for 30 days.