How am I supposed to feel about the Kotel? That topic seems to be left out of the Jewish Day School curricula. We learn about these cold stones and their rich history, starting from the days where they were amalgamated into the great Temples leading to their destructions. We are told to fast and mourn the loss of the original Temple once a year, and to pack some extra skirts for the day we visit Jerusalem. We practice writing notes on ripped notebook paper and praying in the wall’s direction. None of these lessons, however, taught us how we must feel upon touching the smooth Jerusalem stones that constitute the beloved Kotel, a wall that has successfully allowed us to build walls of intolerance between our fellow Jews. How am I, a progressive Jew who has made a home for herself in Diaspora Judaism, expected to feel about the Western Wall?
Everyone else seems to have formed connections and relationships with this seemingly lifeless wall. Through protest, song, and liberation, Women of the Wall (WOW) express their love of the Kotel and their hopes for change. As they wrap their tallitot around their shoulders and carry the weight of the Torah—and the future for Jewish feminism in Israel—in their arms, we undoubtedly recognize their feelings about this holy ground. We see the Orthodox and right wing men, bowing fervently toward the wall as the sun beats down ferociously onto their black suits and streimels. On the other side of the partition, the tears and pleas from their wives and mothers echo throughout the kotel plaza and moisten the centuries-old stones. Behind them, with no shortage of Polaroid’s and distinctive red stringed “Kabbalah” bracelets, stand clusters of American teen tours who also manage to formulate an impromptu prayer or two to match words to their feelings of awe. Sure, the experiences are all included in the ten-day package, but their overwhelming feelings of excitement, confusion, and peace alike, are priceless. Even Christians flock to the Kotel, their minds marveling at how their very feet can trace the footsteps of their savior. Suddenly, at the sight of the Kotel, devout Christians feel a genuine sense of connection to the holy land that no bible study or church service can provide.
This one wall, despite its controversy, brings more people to their knees than any other ancient artifact. This one wall that ignites years of denominational battles and gender conflicts also humbles almost the entire range of the Jewish spectrum. So where does that place me, a Jewish American teen, influenced by the cries and passions that make up the Kotel’s voices?
I tried to feel that great mind-consuming awe that everyone else seemed to experience upon touching the Kotel stone. In fact, I tried to feel anything other than the dry Jerusalem heat, but unfortunately walked away feeling like the same white canvas with which I entered. That one wall, while beautiful, did not feel particularly more awe-inspiring or life changing than any other wall in Israel. Yet surrounding my blatant apathy, I heard the melodious chants of Jewish feminists, the heartfelt wailing of observant mothers, the mumbled prayers of Orthodox black-hatters, and the clicks of tourists’ cameras. I watched as these eclectic sounds and perspectives crossed paths and formed their own connections to history. I may in fact never understand the meaning and depth of such a holy place, but it is those around me who remind me that the Kotel is inexorably a place of feeling. For me, I will feel the Kotel through the feelings of the voices that surround me, for it is their unremitting passion that awakens this lifeless wall and humbles those who see that magic.