On Jews, Jerusalem, Women and Walls

Note: Reflections based on my rare February and March 2013 trips to the Kotel. Based on today’s news, I figured today’s as good as any to post. 

I’ve been to the Kotel, the Western Wall, way too many times in the past year. Previously, I had a comfortable average of maybe once every two or three years. Maybe less. It felt long enough between trips. And the trips are always for the sake and pleasure of other people.

But throughout the last year, I’ve accompanied various visiting family members through the Old City, the pathway inevitably leading to the token Kotel visit. Some pray, some don’t. I never do.

The Kotel, the Old City, and even Jerusalem for that matter have come to symbolize discomfort, pain, ambivalence, shame, conflict. I don’t want to pray in those places. I don’t want to pray alongside people I can’t trust. I don’t want to reach deep into myself and summon a spiritual presence in such a political place.

You know where it’s lovely to pray? In a forest. There’s plenty of forest around Jerusalem. I live in it. I think it’s a not-so-big-secret that many other ancient sects of humanity get that we don’t. Man-made holiness hurts. Holiness existed before we did. Why wouldn’t we jump over each other to access that?

By all means, if the Kotel means something to you, enjoy it. Women of the Wall, Women for the Wall, women who wear falls, women who wear shawls. Men who throw garbage, men who who wear jeans, men who think learning is working, men who think working is earning.

When I’m standing in the Kotel plaza, I’m filled with anger and pain. So please, count me out. Take my spot. I hope though that between me and you and everyone else, some kind of spirituality will eventually solve our crisis.

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Things I can’t handle #745873: Beit Shemesh Taliban mother and daughters. Visiting the Kotel in March 2013.

 

Birkat Kohanim at the kotel.

I had never seen it, and my dad is of the priestly persuasion, so the three of us went down to the kotel in the Old City yesterday to hear/see/be present at the ginormous Birkat Kohanim for chol hamoed Sukkot.

Birkat Kohanim – known as ‘duchaning’ in Ashkenaz circles – is like a representation of the old days, when the kohanim would bless the people of Israel. On the 3 regalim – Pessach, Shavuot and Sukkot – it got more intense, since those were pilgrimage holidays. Jews from all over Israel would travel to Jerusalem, to the Beit Hamikdash, to deliver their sacrifices and be blessed.

So this was a mini pilgrimage of sorts – a traveling to the Old City, which I very rarely do anymore.

It was bursting with people, and it was the first time I’ve ever gotten a sense for what it must have been like back in the old days, when Jews would pack themselves in to even smaller spaces. It felt crowded, it stank and it was incredible to behold.

Originally, when I was considering going, I thought I was going for the view – hundreds of Kohanim gathering under their tallitot at the front of the wall. But the scene wasn’t spectacular like I thought. It was actually what I heard – the sounds of the blessings, the voices of the Kohanim, the amens of the Jewish crowd.

Take a peek (or more, take a listen) of the service here.

And the diversity, of course, can always be described in the photos: