Romney visits Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Jewish holiday

JERUSALEM — Mitt Romney made a visit Sunday to the Western Wall here in the Old City of Jerusalem, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, to deliver a prayer on the solemn Jewish holiday of Tisha B’av.

In a symbolic gesture to convey his shared values with the Israeli people, Romney interrupted his day of official meetings to add a surprise stop at the historic site. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, wearing a black yarmulke on his head, walked through a crowded plaza to place his prayer in a crack in the wall at the foot of the Temple Mount.

After the wall’s chief rabbi showed him diagrams of the temple area, Romney took a piece of paper from his pocket with his prayer written on it. He stepped toward the wall, bowed his head and placed his right hand on the wall. After about 20 seconds, he looked up and raised his right hand to place his note into a crack.

Romney made no remarks, and a campaign spokesman would not say what Romney wrote for his prayer. As he walked out of the plaza, Romney said, “A real honor to be here.”

Romney stayed in the temple area for only 15 minutes, but drew attention from hundreds of bystanders, both Israelis and American Jews who are living here. People shouted words of encouragement.

One man said, “Good luck to you. God bless you.” Others cried out, “Beat Obama! Beat Obama!”

Another said, “Get rid of Obamacare!” And yet another, “Romney, we love you!”

For centuries, the Western Wall has been a site for Jewish prayers and pilgrimages, and some American Jews who saw Romney pass through the plaza said his visit carried special significance.

“The whole point of this trip is Romney has to be here,” said Carl Sherer, a U.S. citizen who has been living in Israel for two decades. “He’s got to be here for us, and Obama just hasn’t been here for us the last three years.”

Israel Shonek, 22, an American studying in Israel, said Romney’s visit on the Tisha B’av fasting holiday was “very poignant.”

“It’s a very special thing,” Shonek said. “It sends a statement that Obama hasn’t sent to the Jewish people. They haven’t felt this kind of warmth from Obama.”

There was a political dimension to Romney’s visit, too. He was accompanied here by his national finance chairman, Spencer Zwick, and one of his biggest benefactors, New York lawyer Philip Rosen, was waiting at the wall to greet him. Others joining Romney at the wall were his older brother Scott; one of his sons, Josh; and his close friend, Bob White.

Meanwhile, Romney’s aides escorted several other top donors through the temple plaza to watch Romney place his prayer in the wall. The fundraisers are in town for a Monday morning fundraiser at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

Men and women pray at separated portions of the wall. Romney’s wife, Ann, inserted her own prayer note into the female side of the wall, pausing for several minutes and placing her hand on a brick.

As she walked through the temple plaza, one woman shouted, “Ann! We are pulling for Mitt!” Another woman told her, “Jewish women are praying for you.”

Romney smiled and nodded, and as she neared the motorcade, several young Orthodox men with long beards and big hats stopped to stare at the candidate’s wife.

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