An elderly woman narrowly escaped tragedy at Jerusalem’s Western Wall on Monday when a 220-pound stone fell just steps away from where she was praying.
Security footage of the rare incident shows the stone dislodging from the ancient holy wall and falling about 23 feet, Reuters reports, leaving a hole in the raised wooden platform below.
Daniella Goldberg, a 79-year-old resident of the city, can be seen in the video grasping the platform’s railing in shock as she turns from praying at the wall to survey the damage.
“I didn’t hear or feel anything until it landed right next to my feet,” Goldberg told Reuters.
Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, is calling the woman’s dangerously close-call a “miracle.”
“A great miracle occurred when a stone ... fell near the worshipper and did not hurt her,” Barkat said in a statement.
The Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting an investigation of the section, which could keep it closed for two weeks, according to the Jerusalem Post. If other stones are found to be in danger of falling, the section could be closed longer as each stone is secured.
IAA Chairman Yisrael Hasson said the stone’s fall could have been caused by humidity or by erosion caused by plants growing in the wall’s crevices.
″We are talking about a 2,000-year-old structure that is under the process of natural erosion, together with nature’s harms,” Hasson told Reuters. “We don’t know exactly why this thing happened.”
The Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, is an important place of pilgrimage and prayer in the Jewish tradition. It is believed to part of an ancient complex that included the Second Temple of Jerusalem. The Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
The incident happened in an area of the wall known as Ezrat Yisrael, which lies south of the main prayer plaza. The platform is reserved for progressive Jewish visitors who want to participate in mixed-gender prayer.
Israel’s Orthodox religious establishment restricts men and women from praying together in the main section of the wall. Women are allowed in a gender-segregated section but are prohibited from wearing traditional Jewish prayer shawls or reading aloud from the Torah.
Feminist Jewish groups, like Women of the Wall, and liberal Jewish denominations, such as the Reform and Conservative movements, have long campaigned for greater equality at the holy site and a permanent place to pray. Ultra-Orthodox groups regularly protest certain forms of mixed-gender prayer at the wall.
Progressive Jewish groups were assigned a separate section for mixed-gender prayer in 2000. A temporary platform was constructed at the section in 2003 and renovated significantly in 2013. In 2016, the Israeli government approved a plan to construct a permanent egalitarian section that would be overseen by progressive Jewish leaders. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze that plan in 2017, The Times of Israel reports.
The fact that no one was harmed Monday is striking given that the platform was filled with visitors just one day earlier for Tisha B’Av. The Jewish day of mourning commemorates the destruction of the temple and is one of the most crowded days of the year at the wall, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Clarification: Language in this story has been amended to clarify the historical significance of the Western Wall.