This Shabbat, I went to the Kotel for the first time.
Yes, I have been here a month and yes, this was my first trip to the Kotel.
(Not just on this trip, but ever – since this is my first trip trip Israel and all.)
A good friend of mine just arrived before starting her own year program and suggested D and I join her in going to the Kotel as Shabbat ended. We were both excited to finally have a set plan, as we had often said on Shabbat that we “should have” gone, and yet somehow – we just hadn’t yet. It was definitely for a reason, because I loved being able to share that moment with someone who has shared so much of her journey to a religious life with me.
As we approached that walls of the Old City, I stopped on my tracks. I was so caught up in the moment that I couldn’t possibly take another step. People were talking to me and bustling about and I could only stare at the walls. I was in awe. To think that these walls once enclosed the entire city of Jerusalem was just overwhelming. To look behind me and see the busting Jerusalem that we know now, and to look ahead and see such a small space enclosed in walls where our ancestors lived. The walls which kept out wild beasts and kept in disease. The walls which were broken down and rebuilt time after time and mark now a space with quarters reflecting the diversity of the city. The juxtaposition was beautiful.
We walked through the Old City – first the Christian Quarter, then a bit of the Armenian Quarter, and finally – into and through the Jewish Quarter. Everywhere I looked I felt like I was living a piece of history. As we neared the Kotel the sun was rapidly setting and there were groups of men praying mincha (the afternoon service) in the middle of the path as the last time to say it was upon us.
Then finally, finally, we could see it. I couldn’t believe it. There before me was the Western Wall. The place where so many Jews before and after have poured out their hearts and souls to Hashem, seeking guidance, strength, health, and tenacity in the times where they or their loved ones need it the most.
The entire walk up to the wall, I was shaking with excitement and yet also the calmest I have been in a very long time. The moon was shining bright and illuminating our journey. We went to wash and then off to the women’s side to pray Maariv (the evening servie).
I have a habit of going farthest from the mechitza (seperator) wherever I pray, so I gravitated that way at the Kotel as well. There was an area where no one was standing behind the women who were currently praying, so I went there and started to pray. As one of the women finished, I stepped up into the place she had vacated at the wall and immediately reached out my hand. I was shocked at how worn and smooth the rock was. Then, I had a memory of one of great teachers from my Hebrew School days saying “Reach up!” and I did. Up higher the rocks have been less touched and they retain more of their rocky feeling. It felt more like I was touching the history of the wall when I reached up, and also somehow closer to Hashem.
I prayed with my hand up high on the wall, feeling the entire history and future of the Jewish people in a single touch. When I finished I touched my mitpacha (scarf) – covered forehead to the wall and allowed myself to just feel the emotion of the moment. I prayed for guidance, strength, health, and tenacity for myself and my loved ones. I became a part of the chain.