US Vice President Mike Pence paid a 15-minute visit to the Western Wall on Tuesday, further normalizing what until May was a taboo preventing high-ranking US administration officials from visiting the site.
US President Donald Trump broke the taboo with a visit in May, followed by another visit to the site in June by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Though the visit of Pence and his wife to the site was formally characterized as a “private” one, journalists were invited to cover it, and a makeshift tent was setup to receive the vice president. In addition, spotlights shined on the wall where Pence approached, providing good, soft lighting for pictures.
Female journalists invited to cover the event were infuriated that they were forced to stand on the media riser behind the men and a low barrier in the women’s section of the Wall, preventing them from getting a good view or picture angle of Pence.
The site, usually bustling with worshipers and tourists, was closed for about four hours for security purposes and to accommodate the US delegation.
Asked by reporters as he left the wall how he felt about the visit, the vice president, who has visited it on previous trips, replied: “Inspired.’
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, and Mordechai (Soli) Eliav, the director of the Western Wall Heritage foundation, met Pence at the site and gave him a short explanation.
Rabinowitz told Pence that Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, William Seward, visited the Western Wall in 1871 and wrote about Friday night prayers “to which all the Jews of Jerusalem flock.”
Rabinowitz said Seward’s visit was the first deep connection between the US and Jerusalem. “We recently saw the fruits of this deep connection when President Trump recognized, in his words, that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, always and forever,” he said.
After the explanation, Pence took a couple minutes to recite Psalms, approached the Wall, put a note into it and stood in front of it with his hand on the stones for about 30 seconds.
Pence’s wife, Karen, received a separate explanation on the women’s section of the wall, after which she, too, approached it and stood with her hand on the stones for a few moments.
Afterward, the vice president was given a menorah made out of stone, and his wife was given a necklace with a 19th-century engraving of the wall.
Pence signed the guest book of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation: “It is a great honor to pray here at this sacred place. God bless the Jewish people, God bless the State of Israel always. Vice President Mike Pence.”
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