A new installation uses music, light and smoke to bring Jewish youth to Jerusalem's Western Wall.
Tons of glass and dramatic pillars to 'sell' the Western Wall
By Nadav Shragai
In 1985, when the design of the newly opened Western Wall Tunnel excavated along a buried section of the wall was being debated among rabbis, archaeologists and architects, the main point of debate was how the place of the Temple would be presented during tours of the site. In those days, the chief rabbi of the Western Wall was Rabbi Yehuda Meir Getz, to whom kabbala was very significant. Twenty years on, another controversial figure, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, now holds the post, and the Temple is hardly mentioned in the visitors center adjacent to the tunnel, which runs beneath the present-day Muslim quarter of the Old City.
Discussion revolves these days around a more modest goal: bringing the Jewish public, especially the younger generation, to the Western Wall. "You are part of the chain of the generations" is the title of a new installation, scheduled to open in a few weeks, which is located deep under the Old City, alongside a host of archaeological discoveries. It involves music, light, smoke and artistic elements made from glass by the artist Jeremy Langford.
The ostentatious exhibit, which is expected to become one of Jerusalem's tourist attractions, seeks to connect visitors to the Western Wall and the Western Wall Tunnel, using cultural and historical elements common to the entire Jewish people.
Rabbi Rabinovitch rejects the assumption that the younger generation is not coming to the Western Wall because of security concerns. "We checked this in surveys. They aren't coming mainly because they are unaware of the importance of the site and the roots it represents. For many young people today, the Western Wall serves as a backdrop to the Memorial Day ceremony they watch on television once a year," he says. "This presentation tries to reach young people in the language and tools of the 21st century, but with content that will make it clear to them that they are links in a magnificent chain that began in the days of the patriarch Abraham and continues to our time."
Veteran museum designer Eliav Nachlieli creates a dialogue with visitors through pillars made of thousands of layers of glass by Langford. The pillar at the entrance is inscribed with the word "Jerusalem." Behind it is another pillar bearing verses from Chronicles. In the "room of the patriarchs" stand the three "pillars of the nation" on which the names of the patriarchs and the matriarchs are written. Additional pillars are scattered throughout the area - a kings' pillar, a prophets' pillar, a pillar with the names of communities destroyed in the Holocaust and several others.
One of the highlights of the exhibit is the nine-meter-high "pillar of longing" - 15 tons of glass in about 2,000 layers. The pillar is reflected in a glass floor across which the visitor walks. The pillar was originally to have been sunk into the floor, but during excavations a ritual bath from the Second Temple period was discovered, along with a wall from the time of the First Temple. Instead of having to move the pillar because of the finds, it was decided to install the glass floor, so that when visitors look up they see the pillar, and when they look down they see the ritual bath, creating the illusion that the pillar is rising from the antiquities.
The visitors' experience ends in the "hall of light." Here, in a darkened room, the projected image of an actor tells the story of Rabbi Yisrael Halevy, who had a deep connection to Jerusalem and who was killed in Poland during the Holocaust. One of Halevy's students, who survived the Holocaust, told Zvi Amirav, a paratrooper, about Halevy just before Amirav set out to take part in the battle for Jerusalem in the Six-Day War. The man asked Amirav to remember that alongside him were many like Halevy, for whom Jerusalem had been the center of their existance. During this part of the presentation, the audience sits around a focal point of light, emanating from a kind of well with lights twinkling above like stars.
The project worries those who believe that the project's bold design and glass elements could overshadow the presence of the Western Wall. Rabinovitz says this will not be the case, as the installation and the Western Wall Tunnel are not directly connected. However, Rabinovitz concedes, "We didn't have much of a choice. We had to attract young people. Our surveys showed how far they are from this place. In any case, it is a tool. The main thing, after all, is the Western Wall and everything it stands for."