Birthright Reflections: Day 8

Prior to arriving at the Western Wall, I had heard many stories about its significance to the Jewish people. Friends and family from back home had visited, sometimes taking with them notes that I had written to stick into the cracks of the cobblestone, as is custom when one visits in person. Needless to say, the Kotel carried an aura of mysticism for me before I even got to Israel.

Before we were set free to experience the Kotel for ourselves, our trip coordinator, Danielle, posed a question to us. “If the Kotel could speak,” she said, “what stories would it tell you?” As I approached the women’s side of the wall, I placed my palm on the surface of the stone. The cracks were overflowing with notes and if the contents of the messages were anything like the ones I wrote, I’d say they carried words of well-wishing for loved ones. I imagine they bestowed health, happiness, success, and good fortune upon friends, family, and humanity. I think the Kotel would also overwhelmingly share a desire for peace — whether it be inner peace, peace between friends, or peace between Israel and its neighbors.

Yesterday, we visited an Arab-Israeli village and spoke a lot about connecting to the other (as in, to people whose stories and livelihoods are different than our own) and the importance of understanding one another’s struggles. While easy to say, the act of creating relationships between people whose narratives seem to be complete opposites of each other is not an easy task. Many have their guards up — they are not very trusting (initially) of different perspectives — and I think the Kotel’s story would share a desire for bridging these differences — for easing the tension and pain that many experience in their lives.

As I recited the Mourner’s Kaddish to myself at the wall and tried to pay my respects to those who had passed, I could accutely hear the wails of a woman standing beside me. At the same time, I heard the men loudly and joyously singing Shalom Aleheim — a call for peace — Shalom. This collection of emotion pulled together the journey of the Jewish people for me. Within our collective memory we’ve experienced extreme grief and adversity, yet we remain as beacons of hope, light, and life. So, while the Kotel (or the Wailing Wall, as some call it) screams the stories of hardships and mourning, it also reminds us that every day, its visitors wish for a better tomorrow for themselves, for their loved ones, and for the world.

I think it is also important to note the diversity of those standing at the Wall today. The entire spectrum of age was represented and people were spread out amongst the chairs laid out for us. The spread from young to old showed me the universality of desire and of hope present in that space. Everyone there today was hoping for something — as was everyone there yesterday and every day since the Western Wall started receiving visitors. As I thought about the different meanings the Wall held for every one of those visitors, I felt extremely nostalgic. Although I can only imagine the stories of others, I felt a sense of belonging today when I added my story and my hopes to the living diary that is the Kotel.