Monday, July 28, 2008

Obama and Carter Prayers in Jerusalem

Barack Obama, the Democratic Party candidate for US Presidency , visited the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem last week. He put on the traditional Jewish skullcap, stood at the Wall, touched it, and wrote a prayer that he inserted into a recess of the Wall. The visit, widely covered by the US and the world media, provided a good photo opportunity for the Obama campaign. The prayer is supposed to be private and personal. However, an Israeli newspaper has published the prayer Obama wrote. Here's the text of the prayer:

Protect my family and me. Forgive my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.

This prayer reminded me of my visits to Jerusalem and a joke I heard from an Israeli friend during one of my visits there. Here's the joke:

When President Jimmy Carter visited the Western Wall along with Prime Minister Menachem Begin around the time of Camp David accord, Mr. Begin said to Mr. Carter: "Mr. President, you can wish and pray here for anything you want and God will grant your wish and prayer." In response, Carter prayed out loud for Israel to withdraw from the occupied West Bank and Gaza to pre-1967 border. Hearing this prayer, Begin said to Carter, "Mr. President, you are only talking to a wall".

Jerusalem is a beautiful city that I have had the good fortune to visit several times. While there is a lot of history buried in all parts of Israel, I think Jerusalem is very special. It represents the best and the worst of the three great Abrahamic faiths. It has been the bone of contention and the scene of epic violence and murder committed in the name of three religions. But it also bears witness to the great architecture and historic events celebrated by the three monotheistic religions. For example, the hill on which the signature golden dome stands, is believed to be the location where Abraham offered his son for sacrifice to God. Each of three religions call this place by a different name: Muslims call it Qubbata-us-Sakhra (Dome of the Rock) from where Prophet Mohammad traveled to the heavens before returning to Arabia, Christians call it Mount Moriah where they believe Jesus ascended to heaven, and the Jews call it the Temple Mount, where they believe Solomon's Temple stood before its destruction. Each religion has its own narrative for this holy site. The Jews pray at the Western Wall (the wailing wall), an acient part of the foundation structure where Masjid Al-Aqsa now stands with the golden dome within its walls. It is believed by Jews to be the remains of the Second Temple believed to have been built in 516 B.C.

The Western Wall draws Jews from all over the world who come and make wishes and pray for themselves, their families, their people etc. It is open to all visitors of different faiths. The prayers are often written on a piece of paper and inserted in the recesses of the wall. I have seen reports that some entrepreurial people have started the business of receiving faxed prayers which they insert in the wall for a fee. Every year these pieces of paper are removed and buried by the rabbis.

I have had the good fortune to participate in the Friday prayers at Masjid Al-Aqsa, Islam's third holiest site. And visited Golgatha, the Garden of Gethsmane, the Church of Mary Magadalene and other Christian holy sites. I have also had the opportunity to pray at the Wailing Wall, looking the part with the skullcap and all. All I can tell you is that I did pray for myself, my family, warm and friendly relations among peoples of various faiths and world peace. But I will not share the details and the text of my prayer with you. That is a private matter between me and God.

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