Broken: My Encounter at the Western Wall
Would the stones of the Kotel touch my guarded heart?
We dump our heavy bags and suitcases in the middle of the large, stone-floored apartment in Rechavia and hurry back out into the crisp morning air to hail a cab. It's my first time in Israel and, of course, we have to go see the Kotel, the Western Wall, first thing.
My pulse speeds up with the acceleration of the taxi and my fingers dig into the cracked leather hand rest on the door next to me. I'm anxious as I watch the white stone buildings fly by. I reflect on some of the incredible places I've traveled to, remembering in vivid detail the soaring mountains that dominated the landscape, the thundering waterfalls that shook me with their sheer power, and the vast, silent, wild lands where I contemplated my utter puniness in comparison to God's infinity.
I've heard about the soul stirring connections people felt at the Kotel, but I am doubtful. Will I really be moved by a pile of old stones? Or is it all a bunch of hype made up by some swooning, head in the clouds, uber-spiritual seminary girls.
Our cab bumps up a road surrounded by an ancient stone wall. The road curves up and I hold my breath, trying unsuccessfully to keep my body from being thrown side to side as the driver swings wildly around the turns.
Suddenly, we emerge from the shadows, the sky opening up before me. And there it is. The Kotel seems to glow in the sunlight. I'm stunned at the unbidden emotion that lodges in my throat. "So this is where I've been facing all those years of prayer," is my first thought.
As I gaze over the serene open plaza, it strikes me how small the Kotel is – a mere crumb of the majestic structure it must have once been. I feel a sudden jolt, like a shockwave through my consciousness. My heart thrums with pain and my soul seems to burst open.
It's broken... but it's still standing. Just like me."
"It's broken," I think, with hot passionate tears brimming in my eyes. "It's broken... but it's still standing. Just like me."
I run to the wall, so close I see nothing but the grainy texture before me. The crowd falls away as memories crash through my mind.
I am hiding in the bushes behind the school building. I am 10 years old and I am wondering what I've done to make everybody hate me. Recess ended 20 minutes ago but I can't bear to re-enter that horrid, blue monstrosity. I have no desire to continue facing the onslaught of malicious taunts and cruel jokes at my expense, the standard routine for as long as I could remember. The teachers don't care. I won't be missed.
I tentatively stroke my fingers along the icy smooth surface of the stone. Eyes squeezed shut, my shoulders heave as my forehead hits the wall.
The bushes feel safe. I don’t want to go home. I wonder if I can live here amongst the rustling green leaves and dappled sunshine, far from my father's raging temper and whipping hands. The quiet chirps of birds overhead are a stark contrast to the bloodcurdling shrieks that rip through the walls of my home every day. I close my eyes and feel God's caress in the breeze. "I will survive this," I promise Him. "I won't let them dictate who I become." And I conjure up my favorite daydream; myself, as the adult I hope to one day be. Beautiful, strong, confident and kind. I hold onto my vision for as long as I can, clutching this lifeline with everything I have left.
"I'm here, God! I'm here!" Gasping sobs erupt from my core. I have kept my promise, stayed true to Him as best as I could with the circumstances He gave me.
Yes, I am more cynical, aggressive and suspicious than I had hoped I'd be. Although I still have a long way to go, I know He is proud of me. I am proud of myself. I cling to the wall and let myself feel His love wash over me. Even more than on the mountains, I feel this is the closest I can get to Him.
After what seems like an eternity, time resumes its passage again. A small laugh flutters through me... I guess I can be moved by a pile of old stones.
I've exhausted my prayers and my tears have run dry, joining the countless others that have soaked into this rock over the centuries. So many broken souls, meeting with God at His broken wall.
Reluctantly, I kiss the stone and back away, wishing I could stay forever. "Rebuild it," I whisper.. "Please, God, rebuild it… and rebuild us all."