Piece 3 out of 4 in collection titled “Inspiration.” The assignment required four pieces – one about a person, one about an object, one about a place, and one about a piece of art. Adapted from a piece titled “My Story,” published in October 2016 issue of Teen Ink.
Picture this: a massive wall, 62 feet high and 1,600 feet wide. Yes, I mean a literal gigantic, stone wall like one I imagine would protect a fortress or castle. Rows and rows of yellowing Jerusalem stone continue in all directions for what seems like an eternity. They are the most ordinary shade of yellowy white but somehow shine magnificently in the Jerusalem night. Pigeons and unruly vines spot the wall like polka dots. Millions of crumpled papers and neon post-it notes are tucked gently but deliberately into the nooks of the warm rocks. Shouts, sobs, and songs fill the sticky Middle Eastern air.
This is the scene at the Western Wall, or “Kotel,” located in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem in Israel. It is one of the holiest sites in the world for Jewish people as it is the only remaining relic of the Second Temple. The Western Wall has been a site for Jewish prayer for centuries, carrying on the ancient tradition of religious pilgrimage to the Temple Mount, or what is left of it, at least. Given the major historical and religious context that the Wall holds for me, it would be an understatement to say that I had high expectations as I walked toward the Wall for the first time in my life.
Zoom in to a little spot smack dab in the middle of the women’s section – a small opening amidst swarms of women just big enough for an awkward eighth grader to fit in. This was me, many years ago, as I approached the Wall for the first time in my life and unknowingly discovered what would become my “spot” for years to come. People were packed like sardines, but I somehow managed to squeeze my way through the crowds on the women’s side and find a personal haven at the base. Once I got to the front, there was no turning back. It wasn’t like I had much of a choice, anyway. Being a mere 4 foot 5, I could see nothing but my piece of the wall straight in front of me and if I dared to move, this precious piece of real estate would surely be snagged within seconds.
I looked at the people around me: an orthodox man with a large beard and Mad-Hatter-esque top hat, a bright-eyed soldier with a machine gun strapped across her chest and a contagious grin across her face, and an energetic woman leading a group in dance and song. Hebrew, English, Spanish, French, and a multitude of other languages pierced the air. My ears were overcome with the sounds of weeping, laughs, and prayers. It was one of the most hectic and chaotic scenes I had ever experienced, but my mind was completely still. I do not mean still in a relaxing or meditative sense, though. I felt nothing but embarrassment, confusion, and frustration. My mind was not filled with the secrets of the universe or the meaning of life. I did not have a spiritual awakening. I was not overcome with uncontrollable and fervent emotion like those around me. Everyone seemed to belong, except me.
Three years passed until I returned again. At this point, the correct noun would be “young woman,” rather than “girl.” This time, I went back to my oasis – the perfect midpoint between the women’s barrier and the end of the Wall. This little area makes up 0.6% of the Wall’s entirety at most: almost nothing, but to me, everything. I felt an unforeseen magnetic force pulling me, and as I reached my spot and my hands pressed firmly against the Wall, I burst into tears. It was as much of a surprise to me as it was to all of my friends who were immediately concerned by my random outburst. “I’m really okay,” I said. “I just finally feel it.” Of course, my friends being like-minded Jewish teens all awaiting the same emotional reaction, I did not have to explain myself further. They knew the “it” that I was referencing. I was not crying tears of sorrow, but ones of immense joy, pride, and relief upon finally feeling a real connection to the Wall and more importantly to the Jewish people. I felt the presence, stories, tears, and prayers of my ancestors burn bright inside of me as I pressed my hands, forehead, and finally lips on the warm Jerusalem stone, softened over time by the billions who have begged the Wall’s assistance. I was immediately at ease as I realized that though I had grown physically and emotionally, the Wall remained unchanged for me.
I wish that after having this incredible moment two summers ago, I could now say it is the place I can always go to receive much needed divine intervention. Sadly, that is not the truth. The Wall is a complete enigma to me. Each time I visit, I am faced with completely new emotions I did not know I could feel. I am always kept on my toes and always left wanting more. I guess maybe that is the beauty of my space, though: it never really satisfies me. If anything, it gives me a small taste of what it would be like to be completely at peace with myself and the world, taunting me with its millions of years of sagacity and experience. And like any good cliffhanger, it leaves me craving, yearning, and needing more. I do know one thing for sure, though, and that is that each time I leave, I begin dreaming of the next time when I can visit my little 10 foot retreat in the rolling hills of Jerusalem, over 7,000 miles away from home but always in my heart.