13 years ago, we were among a small group of people, organized by the Women in Green, who walked around the walls of the Old City to mark Tisha B'Av.
More and more people joined us each year. Today, this revived ancient tradition is now firmly reestablished, with hundreds of participants annually.
From a small group, gathered on a grassy slope in Gan Ha'Atzmaut (Independence Park), our group now fills the plaza at Kikar Safra, from where the walk around the walls now begins.
Last year, our family heard Megillat Eicha, read by our friend, TS, at the Tayelet; then we joined the group at Kikar Safra. We planned to do the same this year.
Right after Shabbat, we met at the Tayelet; our friends chose a spot with a bench, just for me. MD sat next to me, so that we could share a copy of Eicha and a flashlight (we alternated holding each). Everyone else sat on the stone floor, or a low stone wall. (I can no longer sit for long on a hard surface without severe back pain)
Because Tisha B'Av began this year on motz'ai Shabbat (Saturday night), everything started later. There was terrible traffic on the way to Kikar Safra/the Old City.
Each year, tens of thousands of Jews make pilgrimage to the Kotel on Tisha B'Av; roads around the Old City are closed off; and traffic gets progressively worse during the evening.
By the time we arrived at Kikar Safra, the group was long gone.
Without the group, and the police escort, the walk around the walls is not safe. Most of the walk is through exclusively Arab neighborhoods. It is not recommended to walk in those neighborhoods without being armed.
As we stood on the street corner, disappointed, it seemed clear that we had no choice but to turn around and go home.
There were many Jews milling around, on their way to or from the Kotel through Sha'ar Yafo (Jaffa Gate), but no Jews heading in the direction we wanted to go.
Just then, I saw a young couple with a stroller, start walking in the "wrong" direction, towards Sha'ar Sh'chem (Damascus Gate). Maybe they were going to join the group?
I quickly caught up to them.
"Yesh Lachem Neshek?" I asked. (Do you have a weapon?)
They had a weapon, and they were walking fast.
I called to my family to join me and we rushed to keep up. The couple were only rushing because their friends/family were waiting for them at Sha'ar HaPerachim (Herod's Gate), just past Sha'ar Sh'chem. After that, they walked a bit slower, but not much. (It is good to be young!)
Around the same time, three yeshiva students "joined our group", walking behind us. We were now 12 people walking together, so I felt safer.
Our efforts were rewarded. We joined the group at Sha'ar Ha'Arayot (Lions' Gate). We missed a few of the speakers, but were able to hear most of them.
We were moved and inspired by many of the speakers, who spoke about what Tisha B'Av means for us today, especially in the wake of the expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif, and the current threat of destruction of even more Jewish communities (a.k.a. "settlements").
We finished walking with the group to Sha'ar Ha'Ashpot (Dung Gate), where many of the participants either entered to go to the Kotel or caught a bus.
Our family continued on, past Sha'ar Zion (Zion Gate). At Sha'ar Yafo, I suggested to Moshe that we walk down Mamilla Street to get to our car.
"I walked almost the whole way around the walls;" answered Moshe, "I am willing to walk an extra five minutes, to walk the around the entire Old City."
Can't argue with that.
So we continued past Sha'ar Yafo, and up to Kikar Safra.
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.
With love and optimism,