When you say the word Western Wall or Kotel, most people think of a wall filled with holiness, prayer, and maybe also tension. What people sometimes forget is that the Western Wall (like almost the entire country of Israel) is an active archeological site. When Israel united Jerusalem after the 6-Day War in 1967 they began to excavate this area. The area devoted to prayer, the Kotel Plaza, is actually only 1/8 the length of the Western Wall that is still standing.
A little history: the famous Western Wall was built as part of a larger 4-walled complex, by King Herod who ruled the Israelites under the Romans from 37 to 4 BCE. He strived to be a Jewish and Roman leader, combining the cultures together. He was an architectural genius, building cities and palaces in places no one thought was possible. One of his premier projects was to re-build the temple (which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 422 BCE) and to make it the greatest temple complex ever. After the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 CE and destroyed the temple, Muslims built their city on top of the ruins, and their Dome of the Rock on top of Herod’s temple.
This is important because the majority of the Western Wall which originally surrounded the temple complex is underground…making it very inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair. The part of the Western Wall where people pray is above ground but all the excavations take place below ground level. In addition, since it is an active archaeological site, it changes regularly. I have gone on the Kotel Tunnel Tours about 5 times and each time you see something new and different.
This time, what was different was the accessibility! They have installed lifts to go up and down the many staircases as you descend down into the depths of history, both physically and metaphorically. These new handicap lifts are VERY NEW. So new, we literally took the plastic wrap off of the devices! And using new technology always means that they are still working out the kinks. Certain parts of the tunnels have a lot of moisture, which wreak havoc on these devices. At one point the employee helping us went to get an extension cord since the lifts were not working using the current wires and connections. Ultimately, we were not able to join our group all the way to the end of the Western Wall tour. The final set of lifts were not working. But, we were able to travel down to the Western Wall underground and walk along it for a few hundred feet.
Yishai said this was one of the highlights of his Ramah Seminar experience. Touching rocks that Herod had built, that were thousands of years old was incredible. I am thrilled he was able to have this experience. When I first saw this as part of our itinerary I remember saying to the other staff that it would be incredible if we could get him down a little bit but it is largely inaccessible. Kol ha-Kavod to the Kotel Tunnel Tours for making their tours open to all! This has always been a site I have recommended to visitors and tourists, and I am elated to be able to recommend it to ALL!