When you are sitting on a bed, propping your tablet on your knee, and hoping beyond hope that your Bluetooth keyboard won’t suddenly stop working, it is hard to think of deep-felt meaningful experiences. But as it is, this is where I am and what I have to work with.
I wish I could write about visiting the Western Wall while I was there, however, I feel as if I would receive many glares for working on a computer. I would do so if I did not fear someone may berate me because I love to sit and watch the world go by while I write, it makes the process so much smoother.
This was my second time at the Western Wall. I think I may have written briefly of my last experience there but for those who haven’t read it or I haven’t told you the tale I will briefly recap. It was right before Passover during spring 2014 when I found myself in front of this wall. I had heard of the Wailing Wall before but I had never really given it a thought; to me it was just some wall. As I approached this first time I had the sense that, to all these people visiting this ancient bit of wall hidden amongst the curves of this old and crooked part of the city, it held a profound sense of both sadness and exultation. Unprepared for this type of energy I felt too dazed to really take in the full effect of what was going on here. It wasn’t until the urging of a friend that I wrote a letter and steeled myself to walk to the wall. Not a moment after I found a safe corner to tuck the piece of paper into and I laid my hand on these rocks that so many hands had worn smooth, an elderly lady in a wheelchair, thinning hair covered by a kerchief, elbowed me hard in the ribs as she wailed something unintelligible and moved herself into the spot I had previously occupied.
For a moment this made me angry. I had finally gotten into the headspace that allowed me to approach this wall only to be elbowed out of the way. I had my hand on the warm stone, just long enough to feel a spark of energy, or was that just in my imagination? The indignation lasted a moment, and I realized that this would not be my last time there and something had moved that lady to push on forward; there was no reason that I should be angered at the situation.
Fast forward to this past Shabbat. The throngs of people crowding the wall were less than I thought we would find but it was still a good 20 minutes before the sun officially set. There was a diverse mix of people. Each group was quite distinct, tourists who borrowed shawls and hats from stands outside the enclosure to the wall for modesty, to the Hasidic men in their black hats and coats. My sister and I took this moment to sit close to the wall to contemplate, write notes to press into the cracks of the ancient stone and breathe out the stress of a long day in the city. Though not very busy it was still difficult to find a space right up against the wall, there were plenty of people, small prayer books in hand, their bodies swaying to some internal beat.
This trip to the wall, unlike my previous one, I found myself focusing outwards, watching the many different groups of people visiting. From the men’s side I heard singing, by the outer exit there was a group of tourists from the US, in a circle, learning a song from their leader. As my sister and I sat at the back of the square in which the wall is located, a large group of soldiers dressed in green came in shouting and singing in some type of celebration that I did not understand. A few minutes later came a large group of men dressed in black and white, also singing and shouting, though more subdued than the soldiers. They strode towards the western wall with their arms around each other’s shoulders. It was especially these groups that did not quite understand their purpose or feelings towards visiting this space on this night. Though this kind of observation usually frustrates me, this evening I found myself consciously telling myself to observe the events and not to analyze each person’s experience.
While I tried let go of the individual, a few thoughts came to me about the people and place as a whole. Here is the short piece I wrote while there, trying to work on this separation:
I came to the wall to find so many different moments, each one unique. I bet anything that if I were to ask each personal why they are here they would give me a different answer. The most visible to me, at least, are those in the throes of what I conclude is a religious rapture of sorts. Bowing to the wall and crying, their fingers turn pages of well-worn books. How often do they come here?
There is a sense here of something more. An energy that is beyond comprehension, or a least, simple words. Though this could be seen as the presence of a higher being or spirit, I feel as if this energy comes from the people themselves. Is a place only as holy or important as the intention of those who choose to visit it?