Probably the most symbolic site here in Israel, the Western Wall, also known as the Kotel, is not to be missed. But what if you’re traveling with kids who are short on attention and would rather be swimming than visiting this spiritual site?
The first time I visited the Kotel I was 11 on a month long family trip to Israel. Most of our previous summer vacations were to Disney World and the likes, so I was not used to visiting places where the emphasis was on spirituality – rather than fun. I knew that being in Israel was special, but I didn’t always feel it or understand why.
Even though we live here in Israel, our busy family life means we don’t get to the Kotel often enough with the kids. When we do, I try to prepare them so that they can take something meaningful away from the visit. I also try to make things reasonable for them, hoping to avoid the meltdowns and other pitfalls associated with kids pushed past their limits.
Here are some tips for visiting the Western Wall with your kids:
Helping your kids understand the significance of the Western Wall is the first step in creating a meaningful experience.
- keep it simple
- age appropriate
- in tune with your kid’s personality and interests
A young child can understand that the wall was part of G-d’s house that was knocked down by bad guys a long time ago, that G-d is still close by and that we come here to feel close to Him and talk to Him about what we need and how we feel.
An older child might be more interested in some history of the first and second Temples or the liberation of the Western Wall in 1967 during the 6 Days War.
What to Expect
Let them know what kind of behavior is appropriate for such a holy site, mentioning that when you are close to the Wall you will want to be sensitive to others and use quiet voices. Older kids might notice that there are separate men’s and women’s sides. While the plaza is mixed, you can explain that the prayer areas follow the Israeli custom of separating genders at recognized holy sites. Let everyone know that people often leave notes for G-d in the cracks between the stones of the wall. Anyone who feels nervous or uncomfortable about the idea of talking to G-d can prepare a note or a picture ahead of time to place in the wall.
During Your Visit
There are lots of things happening in the plaza of the Western Wall, but the main attraction is talking to G-d. This may or may not interest your kids. Prepping them just before entering the plaza to think about what is great about G-d, something they would like to thank Him for in their lives and something they would like to ask Him for would go a long way in helping a child find the words. Kids who like to people watch can also occupy themselves by noticing how many different kinds of people come from all over the world to this holy site. Taking photos and noting all the different nations represented there can help establish a level of awe for this central place where G-d has chosen to make His home. Remember to remind them to be respectful and not intrude on other people’s experience.
Even for adults, it isn’t a given that you’ll have a spiritual experience just because you are standing in close proximity to the holiest place in the world. For tips on how to get the most out of visits to holy places, have a look at Aryeh’s post “How to Connect.”
Practical Tips and Tricks
There are bathrooms at both ends of the plaza and even when there are lots of crowds the wait isn’t too long. Still, stop off at the bathrooms when you get there so that your kids don’t need a bathroom break at an inconvenient time.
Bring lots of water and snacks, as all prepared parents do when traveling just about anywhere with kids.
The plaza does not provide too many options for shade, so sun hats are a necessity from April through October.
Make sure everyone has a shawl or sweater they can use to cover up if they are in something sleeveless. On the women’s side they have wrap around skirts you can borrow if you are wearing shorts or a short skirt.
Pick a meeting spot and a time to meet up when everyone is finished. This is also important in case someone gets separated from the group or takes more time on their own than expected.
Having something on hand to occupy the little ones buys a little extra time for your own thoughts and feelings to get organized and expressed. You don’t want to miss your own personal opportunity to connect.
Pick a tour guide that knows how to talk to kids, explain things on their level and keep them happily occupied.