By Luke Baker and Steve Holland
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Donald Trump made a historic visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Monday, standing before the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray and saying a few words before inserting a note between the monumental stones.
He was accompanied by the Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, who said on Israel Radio that he recited two psalms with the U.S. leader. One of them, Psalm 122, speaks of Jerusalem as a “city that is united together”.
The ancient stones are in a part of Jerusalem that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. It considers all of Jerusalem its indivisible capital, a status that is not recognized internationally.
“(Trump) said that he understands the significance of the Western Wall for the Jewish people and that’s why he decided to visit here during his first trip to Israel. He is certain he will come here again, perhaps many times. He was very moved,” Rabinowitz said.
“He asked about the size of the Western Wall. We presented the maps, what was in the past, what’s happening now, the excavations, the finds.”
The president was joined on the visit by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, an Orthodox Jew who went to the wall shortly after Trump and said prayers. Both he and Trump wore black kippahs, the skull caps worn by religious Jews and by others as a mark of respect.
After a few moments standing silently before the limestone edifice, his right hand resting on the blocks, Trump withdrew and smiled briefly. He did not walk backwards from the wall as religious Jews do as a sign of devotion.
It is the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited and prayed at the site. Barack Obama visited in 2008, but it was during the campaign, before he became president.
The Wall, the visible portion of which stands more than 60 feet (20 meters) high, was a retaining structure for the second Jewish temple, which stood on an esplanade in the Old City before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.
The site is known to Jews as Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism, and to Muslims as The Noble Sanctuary, where al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, now stand.
Access to much of the walled Old City, which is divided into four ‘quarters’ — Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish — was shut down on Monday ahead of Trump’s visit. The area has been the scene of multiple stabbing attacks by Palestinians targeting Jews over the past couple of years.
As Trump and Kushner visited the area of the wall set aside for men, Melania Trump and Ivanka, Kushner’s wife, visited a separate nearby section where women are allowed to pray.
Like her husband, Melania held her right hand up against the towering stones and inserted a note among the cracks, something Jews often do as a means of submitting prayers.
Ivanka, who converted to Judaism on marrying her husband, was dressed demurely in black and wore her hair partially covered by a small hat. Video footage showed her crying as she prayed at the wall.
Trump’s visit to the site sparked some controversy during the planning.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had sought to accompany Trump to the Western Wall. But the State Department said that would not be permitted as officially the Wall is in East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied 50 years ago, and Palestinians seek as the capital of a future state.
(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Greg Mahlich)