Friday, January 27, 2006

The Kotel

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.


Enigma4U said...


Unforgiveable! You squandered an opportunity to request something you already are!

Nice post!

Orthoprax said...


What does it mean to be a "good Jew?" It can be a complicated idea. But even though I do see myself as a good Jew today, (when I was in Israel I was referred to by one of my fellow birthright travelers as "Israel's own son"), I have my whole life ahead of me and I hope that I'll have the personal constitution to keep with it.

Mis-nagid said...

The first time I saw the kotel I was very small and the wall seemed so big. It stayed that size in my memories, until I went back again a little older. Then it looked so small. Not in some figurative or symbolic sense, but in the most literal of senses. I was simply surprised by how small the kotel really is. I had remembered it being enormous.

Orthoprax said...


I knew in advance that it's actual size can be deceiving. Many people say that it's much smaller in real life. So I had set my expectations accordingly and found it a little bigger than I had anticipated.

Orthoprax said...

Also, to add, before they excavated the area before '67 there are pictures of the Kotel area that are really tiny. See this photo from 1870:

Alex said...

First, my snide comment, then my compliment: "Jews don't pray to the Kotel but many, as they stand before it, feel as if they are saying, "We are back again." -- How do you know they don't pray to the Kotel? After all, you had written last May: "Although I haven't said Kiddush Levanah myself more than a half a dozen times in my life, I do see a group of Jews praying to the Moon every now and then."

OK, now for the compliment (meaning, just take the snide remark as a friendly poke in your side): That was a very touching posting. I appreciate it. It's been over 20 years since I've been to Israel. My bar mitzvah at the Wall was very meaningful to me -- at least in retrospect. You're reminding me that I should go again.

Orthoprax said...


"How do you know they don't pray to the Kotel?"

Hey, I guess you're right. There probably are actually some who may pray to the Kotel itself. To note, there are some voices in modern Jewry (e.g. Isaiah Leibowitz) who call for the Wall to be destroyed since it is being used in an idolatrous way (think Nachash Hanechoshet).

"That was a very touching posting. I appreciate it."

Sure, thanks. See I'm not always a heartless cynic. ;-)

"You're reminding me that I should go again."

I'd certainly recommend it. Even after I was back in America for just a couple of days I was already feeling ready for a revisit.

Additionally, if current trends continue, the only place where progressive Jewish life will exist will be in Israel. That's one reason why I've been toying with the idea of aliyah lately.

Sarah said...

Aliyah?! Now you're REALLY starting to sound like me ...