• Western Wall (Kotel) - Jerusalem with prayers between the stones | Photo: Pxhere

The Vengeance of Cleaning

Tal Hartuv - 15 December 2021

The recently deceased 95-year-old Binyamin Werzberger was very widely known in Israel. He was a familiar face at the likes of public commemorations, Days of Remembrance and even army ceremonies. But every Israeli knew him first and foremost as the man who cleaned the Western Wall.

Binyamin Werzberger

Because for Binyamin, being in Jerusalem and doing his job was about a promise he made to himself when he was a kid.

Living under the Nazi invasion of Hungary, the then teenager was dragged off to forced labour. For months he had to lift heavy iron tracks to build a railway line. It was when he was weak with hunger and barely able to stand, that a vicious Nazi mocked him, telling him to stop dreaming of Jerusalem. The only way he will ever get to Jerusalem, he cruelly said, will be by his ashes going up through the chimneys of the crematoria.

At that moment Binyamin kept silent, but vowed to himself that not only would he survive, he would also live in Jerusalem.

He kept his promise.

“Binyamin Werzberger became the self-appointed caretaker of the Western Wall complex”

Although all his family members were murdered by the Nazis, in 1947 Binyamin made aliya, married, raised a family, and became the self-appointed caretaker of the Western Wall complex.

His most humble appointment, began when he was already a pensioner. He famously strolled up to the offices of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation – the Jerusalem organisation responsible for the maintenance of the area – and offered to volunteer his services. They offered him what was available — cleaning the stones of the plaza.

Daily he swept the ancient stones, gathering up the prayers scribbled on notes that had fallen onto the ground and putting them in a ‘geniza’ a type of burial space for Jewish holy objects. Always smartly dressed, he kept the area clean, and was always on hand to help any worshipper on his or her way to pray at Judaism’s second most holy site.

For 20 years he turned up at 5:30 a.m. and put on his custodian’s clothes with a sense of holy trepidation. He did this because he knew that God had helped him keep his vow and he had survived, and was now living and working in Jerusalem.

Binyamin treated the ancient stones as he would treat a child in need of care. His knowledge of the excavations under the Western Wall also excelled that of any experienced tour guide.

Over the years his duties enabled him to speak to thousands of people. He told them this incredible story and explained that cleaning the stones was his revenge. He even had an opportunity to tell his story to the Hungarian Prime Minister.

“Binyamin took his pain and with a grateful heart turned it into a sacred space which made his everyday work into the palace of his King”

And every time he told his story, he spoke of Psalm 128:5, “and you will see the good of Jerusalem.”

Life brings us all knocks and trials, and it is easy to turn bitter after enduring so much less than Binyamin did. But by loving and living his Judaism, Binyamin took his pain and with a grateful heart turned it into a sacred space which made his everyday work into the palace of his King.

About the Author