I went to the Kotel for the first time on a Friday night. It was thrilling. We walked down the steps and I saw the Kotel with my own eyes as I had seen it countless times on pictures and movies my entire life. I felt a kind of tugging in my heart to get closer to the Wall.
Now, I'm not too enamored by the Temple. Sure it was an incredible structure of its time and meant very much to the Jews as a monument to God and Jewish independence, but I do not feel any desire to see it rebuilt, nor do I feel a need for the Temple Mount to be reclaimed. It's not as if I'm specifically against such activities, but that I simply do not see it as important. What then is the reason for my emotional connection to the Wall?
The Kotel, like so many other things in Judaism, is a symbol. Some may take it as simply a remnant of the Second Temple, which it is. Others may see it as a place where God is nearest, though that's not exactly my cup of tea. I see it as a symbol of the centuries of Jewish oppression. As a symbol of the unrelenting yearning and wailing that Jews have directed toward it for the return to the glory of the days of old. Jews don't pray to the Kotel but many, as they stand before it, feel as if they are saying, "We are back again. We've been pushed down for so long, but we've come back. They thought that they could destroy us, but here we are standing in this place before this Wall once again."
I stopped in the middle of the plaza just taking the sight in, building up my own suspense for when I would eventually come to the Wall and touch it. Then we began saying Kabbalat Shabbat and soon afterwards Maariv. I was davening but I couldn't keep my eyes off the great stone monument before me. It was a Lubavitch group so there was plenty of singing and dancing. That was fine enough but I was really just waiting for a few moments of my own time so I could go meet the Wall.
With Maariv finishing up I made my way through the crowd towards the Kotel. I stopped just a few feet away and I looked up. It's really big from down there. Then I stepped forward and I touched it with the fingertips from one hand. Stone. Smooth. Smooth from the thousands upon thousands of other fingertips that brushed that Stone before me. I pressed my palm against it and then I brought my other hand against the Wall. Cold stone, yet in a way also warm. I looked up again then I took my hands off. I said my silent goodbyes and turned away.
We were supposed to visit again on Sunday and my roommate was preparing his little note to push into a crack in the Wall. I wasn't planning on writing a note myself as I didn't see much of a point, but after talking to my roommate I thought, "Hell, why not?" Good and well meant prayers are, of course, never wish lists but directives truly pointed at oneself for goals to succeed or for principles to live up to. And, again, it is symbolic.
Right now, if it hasn't fallen out yet, there is a tiny scrap of paper in a tiny crevice on the left side of the Kotel which has my message written on it. I wrote it in Hebrew, though I'm not sure why, and it is also probably also mostly grammatically incorrect. My Hebrew skills are far from perfect. I slipped it in without fanfare but with some thumping of the heart.
It was a simple message. I wasn't asking for anything fancy. All it said, in fair Hebrew translation, was:
"Let me be a good Jew."
Even I'm not sure exactly what that means, but it certainly felt meaningful.