The Western Wall

I stand at the Wall, belly pressed up against the cool stones, the warmth of the sun at my back, with the press of many, many other women all around me, most of them murmuring prayers, many weeping quietly. Each of us is in our own private well of whatever-it-is-that-makes-us-weep, and most of us are strangers to each other. Yet somehow the Wall draws us together regardless of faith or lack of it, and regardless of dress, language, denomination, age, or any other distinction you can think of. Here you can pray from an Orthodox siddur, a Conservative or Reform siddur, or from your own heart. You can come here and not pray at all. You can wear the modest skirt, the long sleeves, and a proper headcovering, or jeans and a baseball cap, or cover your shoulders with one of the shawls from the basket by the entrance. It doesn’t matter. I thought it would, but it doesn’t. Nobody looks at anyone twice. We are all equal before the Wall. Before the Wall, there is kinship, there is acceptance, there is grace. We do not speak, but we connect.

Most of the women rest their foreheads against the Wall at some point. It makes me think of the Third Eye and how it is supposed to be an opening for spirit to find a way in. Many, like myself, rest their whole bodies against the Wall. Most kiss the Wall at some point as well. There is a letting go, a letting be, a letting in. There is a Presence here that waits for this opening, a Presence that some experience as the kiss of the divine, others perhaps as the weight of history. However you experience it, it is palpable and powerful.

That is not to say that everyone gets it. Some don’t seem to be listening. There are various gaggles of girls and women posing for tourist snapshots, with the wall as backdrop and the women at prayer, irrelevant. This bothers me unreasonably. I think, would you be taking pictures like that in a synagogue? A church? Do you not get it that this is a sacred space, a sanctified space, an open-air synagogue? No? I conclude that these are likely the same people who, upon finding a handy pew in one of the chapels along the Via Dolorosa (stations of the Cross), decide they’re feeling a little peckish and proceed to have a sandwich while they contemplate the flagellation of Jesus. (I’m not making this up.) This bothered me unreasonably too. Maybe I’m just unreasonable.

Of those who are listening, are opening, are allowing the power of the place to speak to them, nearly all seem to have a prayer written on a piece of paper that they tuck into a space between the stones. The spaces between almost all the stones from the ground up to arm’s reach are jammed with tiny, tightly rolled pieces of paper. Where to put my prayers? Eventually I find a spot, and now my visit feels complete. As I prepare to leave, I notice women lifting each other up to find a niche that is higher than they can reach alone (closer to god’s ear, perhaps?). I automatically note the metaphor, something about relying on one another, something about a leg up, something about standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, something about not letting another woman fall.

I back away from the Wall. I’m not sure why, but I’ve seen others do it and it just feels right not to turn my back on it right away. I am content yet overwhelmed, and when I meet up with Jack, I burst into tears all over again, right in the middle of the plaza. Hundreds of people are milling about, and here I am, weeping openly – and I don’t care. Such is the magic of the Wall.

Categories: Israel 2011, Jerusalem | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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