In 2008, the CCJS presented the Eternal Light Award to three scholars who developed and serve as directors of the acclaimed multi-media exhibition, "A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People
." On July 17, 2009, these same gentlemen, Rabbi Abie Ingber
, Xavier University in Cincinnati, Dr. James Buchanan
, director of Xavier's Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, and Dr. William Madges
, now dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at St. Joseph's University in Philadelphia, journeyed to the Western Wall in Jerusalem delivering thousands of prayers
placed in their care by the visitors to the "Blessing" exhibit.
Please read the very personal and moving reflections Dr. Buchanan, Dr. Madges, and Rabbi Ingber have generously shared with CCJS.
Dr. James Buchanan: "We were not aware that people back in the States knew of our trip to Israel. This is the second trip to Jerusalem for the three of us to deliver prayers to the Western Wall, the second trip to fulfill the promise made by us through the exhibit that if people will place their prayers in our replica wall, we will deliver them to the actual Western Wall. The fulfillment of that promise during the first trip began as something of a photo opportunity. We were surrounded by the chaos of the Wall as well as a number of people who were recording what we were doing. That sense of doing what we were doing for the cameras was at some point changed into a sense of being in a sacred place fulfilling a sacred promise, a sense that we were really delivering people's prayers to this place. For me that shift was transformative, one in which the chaos and the cameras simply ceased to exist and was replaced by a profound sense of the sacred. This visit was the same, though the fact that there were photos being taken never really mattered at all this time. The weight, figuratively and literally, of delivering some 31,000 prayers was very real. The weight of the pain, the hopes, the lives of people who had come through the exhibit, lives touched by the work of Pope John Paul II and the role we have been able to play in making that happen was profound. The fact that we live in a world very much in need of prayer right now was profound. And the privilege of being there with Abie and Bill, with whom I have shared a spiritual journey, was profound. There is a kind of solitude and kinship that descends on one in such moments, one that I felt when we met with the Pope in 2004, which is mysterious and wonderful. Being fully "in" such moments is an experience where the world seems to disappear or is distilled down to the simple movement of the hand reaching out to touch the Wall. My prayer for the prayers, was and is, "May they all be answered!"
Dr. William Madges: "For me our visit to the Western Wall on July 17th was a deeply meaningful recapitulation of events that had played themselves out three and nine years ago. Three years ago, Abie, James, Yaffa [Dr. Yaffa Eliach], and I came to Jerusalem to deliver to the Kotel more than 8,600 prayers that had been deposited at our exhibit. We came as Jews and Christians, and we carried the prayers of Jews, Christians, and people of other faiths. Though written by different individuals and though they petitioned or praised God in different ways, those prayers were united in their recognition of the need for God's power and grace in sustaining our commitment to be individuals and communities of blessing. A younger generation-Abie's daughters and my daughters-assisted us in placing several thousand of those prayers into the cracks of the Western Wall. A younger generation joining with an older generation in wanting to be bridge builders and a blessing.
Nine years ago, Pope John Paul II had placed his own prayer into the sacred space of the Kotel. Our placing prayers on July 17th not only recapitulated his action, but also followed the order of his visit to Israel in March 2000. Before going to the Western Wall, the Holy Father first visited Yad Vashem, where he emphasized the need to remember the past for the purpose to ensure that never again would evil prevail, as it did for the millions of victims of the Shoah. When he approached the Western Wall several days later, the prayer he placed into one of the Wall's crevices gave voice not only to the memory of the suffering of the Jewish people, but also gave voice to the memory of the blessing of Judaism to the nations. The day before we came to the Kotel, we too first went to Yad Vashem to remember and to honor the lives of Jews who had been murdered in the Holocaust. As we approached the Wall together the next day, I was mindful that as we were physically filling the cracks and broken places in the Wall with prayers, we were also spiritually symbolizing our commitment to engage in "tikkun olam"-repair of the world in its brokenness. To be again at the Wall for this holy purpose was indeed a blessing."
Rabbi Abie Ingber: "I have been to the Western Wall in Jerusalem many, many times. Often I have left upset with myself that I did not think to bring a little paper prayer to leave behind. On the morning of July 17, 2009, I made up for my earlier neglect. With a little over 100 pounds of prayers in hand-the exact number was 31,099-we approached the Western Wall plaza and fanned out onto both the men's and women's side to gently place at least 10% of the prayers in the cracks that have held prayers for generations.
I was reminded of a response from one of my teachers-Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach of Blessed Memory. He taught that while the Wall seems to be made of large Herodian stones, when you come up close-close enough to touch it and see it with your soul and not just your eyes-Rabbi Carlebach said you see it is made up of tears, tears that have lifted prayers for years and have then hardened in to stone. How wise my Rabbi was. Each and every prayer we inserted into the Wall or left in the tunnels proximate to the ancient Holy of Holies was not hastily written. Each and every prayer we hand-carried to Jerusalem came from a special soul touched by the Blessing they had experienced and sealed with a tear. While it had taken us months to deliver the paper prayers, the tears had arrived before us and had hardened onto the hand-carved and holy stones. On July 17, as I rested my head against the Wall's stones, tears formed in my eyes, and I knew that my tears had also come home...again."
(Pictured at top from left to right: Dr. James Buchanan, Rabbi Abie Ingber, and Dr. William Madges)