To be truthful, before I left for Israel, I had a firm stance on my belief in God: I didn’t believe in one. I believed in Judaism, in its values, in its land, in its tradition, and in its people, but there is no God for me.
As a kid, and now as a growing person, I’ve never been one to try to expand reality unless I’m writing. Dolls were “too fake” for me, and I was never one to play school, or teacher, or anything outside of my comfort zone. I felt that it was all too pretend. One of the only things I stretched my boundaries in reality was my religion, and even then I was scared to embrace anything that wasn’t tangible.
Today was my first visit to the Kotel or the Western Wall, the most important Jewish site in the world. I don’t know if my beliefs have changed, or if I’m maybe starting to find the tangible aspects of my religion, but I’m different after seeing it. For those who don’t know, the Kotel is the only standing wall left from the second temple of the Jews. It was a supporting wall that held up the area the temple itself was on.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first walked into the temple mount area. The separate entrances for the women and the men irked me, but I kept walking in with the group, and tried to focus on what my Israel Core Course teacher, Alexandra was talking about. We got to an area outside of the actual praying space in front of the wall and Alexandra told us first timers to pair up with someone who had been here before. My friend R.J was my partner. He blindfolded me and then we walked a few yards till we were facing the wall from above the praying areas. R.J teased me about my want to join Women of the Wall, a feminist group that congregates every start of the month to wear tallit (ritual prayer shawls) at the wall, and combat the sexism that permeates the air there. I joked with him back, “Exactly.”
Soon, Alexandra had us take off our blindfolds, and I started tearing up once I saw the wall ahead of me. My ancestry was tangible right in front of me. This place is what connects me to all other Jews. We all pray facing the wall no matter where we are in the world. There I was at the wall, and nowhere else in the world.
We then split up into men and women, and went into our respective praying areas. The women’s area was about a quarter of the size the men’s. On the men’s side there was dancing, praying, and it was silent and loud at the same time. While on the women’s, there was silence, a silence you couldn’t break, even if you were singing. When I got up to the wall, I prayed a silent afternoon service called Mincha, and all around me women were crying to themselves. I started crying too, and I put my head on the wall. It was cold, and old, and rough from the wind and the years. I thought about all my ancestors who came there before me, and for those in my family who have never been able to go to the wall. Past and present seemed to combine for me at once. My experience there was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and the playlist that helped me digest it is below.
Something I’ve realized this week is that maybe reality isn’t as binding as it used to be, but music, music can help us process even the most surreal experiences.
“Brothers on a Hotel Bed” by Death Cab for Cutie
“A Little Bit of Everything” by Dawes
“Man on Fire” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes
“Repo Man” by Jeremy Messersmith
“What a Wonderful World” by Louie Armstrong
“Last Night I Heard Everything In Slow Motion” by Oliver Tank
“New Slang” by The Shins