What an extraordinary day we just experienced! I have never before conducted a bar mitzvah in Israel, and the opportunity to do so at the Davidson Center, at the base of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, was a fabulous aspect of this trip for me, and I think for everyone present, Jewish or not.
It could not have been a better, more beautiful, or more powerful ceremony, both because of the amazing location and the way that everything came together so perfectly.
There are challenges associated with conducting a religious service in a national park in Israel, a clearly public space, and one in which you have essentially no control over many of the elements that go into creating a ceremony of beauty and importance. The Davidson Center is actually located just below the Western Wall Plaza, in an area known as Robinson's Arch, the remainder of a roadway that led to the Temple Mount and was destroyed on Tisha B'Av in the year 70 CE by the Romans. Actually, the section of wall here is no more or less the Kotel, the Western Wall, than the more famous section up above. It just wasn't accessible for those many centuries when Jews prayed to God at the holiest site in the world. While many b'nai mitzvah are conducted at the Kotel itself, it is a very, very public space, with many people walking through, and it has a particularly onerous issue for us. As the Rabbanut, the Orthodox rabbinate, runs the Kotel as a religious site, men and women must go to separate sections to pray. Thus, when there is a bar mitzvah there, the men are all close to the bar mitzvah boy, while the women must peer over a divider and try to participate vicariously—hardly an appropriate way for a an egalitarian religious tradition to celebrate a great simcha.