Western Wall Side Story?

Chabad Museum unveils Kotel replica in Brooklyn.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
March 4, 2012 00:56
2 minute read.
Children at Brooklyn's replica of the Western Wall

Children at Brooklyn's replica of the Western Wall 390. (photo credit: Courtesy Brooklyn Children’s Museum)

NEW YORK – It might sound like an April fools’ day prank, but this April 1 you can go visit the Western Wall in Brooklyn.

No joke.

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The Jewish Children's Museum in Brooklyn showcased a new exhibition to dignitaries and press on Thursday featuring an elaborately detailed replica of the iconic site standing 12 feet tall and 24 feet wide.

The museum, which is affiliated with Chabad, commissioned a team of artisans to recreate a model of the ancient wall in the heart of Brooklyn to teach children about Judaism.


“Visiting the wall is an experience,” said Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson, executive-director of the museum, at the unveiling ceremony. “This is the heart of the Jewish people and its future. Every crack is exactly the way it is in Israel.”

The structure is part of a larger Torah-themed exhibition that also includes mock Egyptian obelisks, recreations of scenes from the Torah and interactive games explaining Jewish customs and laws.

When the exhibition officially opens on April 1, visitors will be invited to follow the tradition at the Western Wall and place notes with their prayers and wishes in the replica’s cracks and crevices. The notes – or kvitels, as they are called in Yiddish – will be collected once a week by an official at the museum and flown to Israel where a Chabad rabbi will place them in the Western Wall.

Herod the Great is believed to have built the Western Wall in the 1st century BCE as part of a perimeter enveloping the Temple Mount. Its massive limestone blocks, which weigh up to 500 tons each, were quarried in the hills around Jerusalem and transported to their current location by an army of laborers.

The replica in Brooklyn was made in Detroit by Work With Your Brain and Niche Design, two design firms, using a malleable form of cement made to resemble stone.

“We had people take high resolution photographs of the blocks,” said Steve Samuels, the founder of Work With Your Brain. “We then turned that into a computer drawing and used it to sculpt the wall.”

Members of Chabad have displayed a fondness for replicas in the past. Over a dozen buildings modeled after the house at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, where the late Chabad leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson lived, have been built by the movement’s adherents around the world.

Some say such practices put an emphasis on the material realm rather than the spiritual one and are contrary to Jewish values.

But Rabbi Gershon Eichorn, the museum’s director, said there was nothing sacrilegious about building a replica of the Western Wall.

“This isn’t a place people pray at,” he said. “It’s for children and it helps connect them to Judaism.”

Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein, who was the guest of honor at the ceremony together with El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi, said he was impressed by the end result.

“What we’ve seen here is amazing,” he said. “I’m sure we should have a museum like this in Israel as well, especially to give secular children with less access to religious education an opportunity to learn about Jewish values.”

A previous version of this article referred to the museum in question as the Brooklyn Children's Museum whereas it is actually the Jewish Children's Museum in Brooklyn. Sorry.

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