Whatever ensues in the turbulent presidency of Donald Trump, he made history for the revived Jewish nation on Monday afternoon when he stood alone at the Western Wall, black kippah on his head, swaying a little, perhaps praying a little.
Fifty years after Israel captured the Old City of Jerusalem, and after several previous presidents had visited before or after holding office, Trump became the first serving president to walk in reverence to the wall.
He stood for long seconds at the Jews’ holiest place of prayer, part of the retaining walls of the Second Temple, while the stills photographers snapped. Then he reached into his jacket pocket to retrieve a note, which he placed deep into a crack between the stones.
Simultaneously, at the other side of the dividing barrier that Israel’s religious authorities maintain at the site, his wife Melania stood with Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism to marry Jared Kushner.
In turn, Melania and Ivanka also stood in silent prayer. Out of sight of each other, the president and his wife placed their right hands on the stones; his daughter, her left.
The US planners had made plain that this was a private visit, as was the president’s previous stop — a visit to the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not join him at the wall. The president was not overly acknowledging Israeli sovereignty at the site. This was not an act of provocation.
It was a carefully calibrated signal of respect. And as such, immensely appreciated by his Israeli hosts.