With a skullcap on his head, Donald Trump slipped a note with a prayer deep into the Western Wall on Monday afternoon, in the first visit ever paid by a sitting U.S. president to the Jewish holy site in Jerusalem.
Accompanied by his Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the U.S. president received a brief explanation about the site from Mordechai Eliav, the director-general of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. Also accompanying Trump at the site was the custodian of the Western Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz. He stood by the wall for several minutes in deep thought touching the stones.
The White House turned down a request from Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu join Trump on the visit.
Trump arrived at the Jewish holy site with his wife Melania and daughter Ivanka. But in deference to Jewish religious custom, he and his son-in-law parted ways with them. Trump and Kushner visited the men’s prayer plaza, and the first lady and daughter visited the women’s section. The two sections are separated by a barrier.
Non-Orthodox Jews have been waging a campaign in recent years to allow men and women to pray together at the Western Wall at a specially designated area on the other side of the Western Wall. Although the government approved a plan to create such a space, Netanyahu has refrained from following through with it, under pressure from his Orthodox coalition partners.
Ivanka Trump, who has visited Israel numerous times before, appeared visibly moved during the visit, as she wiped a tear from her cheek after touching the stones of the Kotel. She also appeared to be deep in thought and prayer. The president’s daughter and wife received an explanation from several Orthodox women, apparently employees of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which runs the site.
It is customary for observant women to cover their hair when visiting the Western Wall because it is a holy site. Ivanka Trump wore a small hat on her head, but the first lady’s head was bare.
The presidential entourage arrived at the Western Wall after a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.