We went to the Kotel this evening. We had Shabbat evening services at the south setion of the wall. Services were fine. There was a bit more interruption by "readings" for my current tastes. They had several of us who had been to the wall before read a piece about their first experience at the wall. I lived.
After services, we went up to the main part of the wall. It was, shall we say, different from what I expected. The way people were generally behaving was not unexpected, but in media you always see the wall straight on, with no context. Seeing it surrounded by all the buildings that crowd around was disorienting. I found the way in which the women's side was conducted to be distasteful. I suppose I didn't realize that the women's section of the wall was so small, so unspirited. The various groups of men praying at the men's section were all dancing and singing and have a big old Shabbat party. The women were mostly silent. God forbid their voices should interrupt the prayer of the men or, worse yet, seduce them!
Baruch Kraus, the principal of EIE, and Jillian Cameron, the director of admissions were sitting far back from the wall on a ledge along with some other various staff members and other hangers-on. I went towards the wall with a group of my friends. We were approached by an Orthodox man, who, judging from his excellent English was born in the US. He asked us were we were from. "All over the US," we told him. "What group are you here with," he asked. "NFTY," we said. "Ah," he exclaimed, "I remember a month or so ago this place was crawling with you guys!" I told him that, yes, NFTY sends many kids to Israel every summer. We told him about the program we were on. "Do you have a place for dinner?" he asked. "Yes!" we all said. We then said our Shabbat Shaloms and he wished us well. Shortly thereafter, totally unmoved, I went to sit with Baruch and Jillian and company.
I didn't get particularly close to the wall. Right after that I gave a leather pouch to Tal, one of my friends, to put in the wall for me. It is traditional to write out small prayers and put them in the wall. I think its an odd tradition and did not engage in such a thing. Deborah Harkins, my art teacher and friend from back home had given me the pouch before I left. She is of the new-agey spiritual type, subscribing to no particular religious tradtion, but instead whatever moves her from various ones. The pouch had in it hair taken from the Great White Buffalo, a sort of Native American messiah-type creature. Mrs. Harkins had asked me to bury the pouch somewhere in Israel so as to bring peace to the region. Instead, I had Tal place it in the wall. I think there's a certain poetry to that.
Last night, all 31 of us EIE students as well as our counselors (Ray, Josh, and Tom the Israeli, the last of which is pronounced like "Tome") sat in a circle and shared. If you know me at all, you know I hate forced sharing. The lights were out and we passed a candle around. Whoever had the candle was the only one allowed to talk. Goodness ass gracious. I had to go last. I had a long time to think about what I wanted to say.
When Tom spoke he mentioned that although he is not religious, he enjoys meeting Jews from other parts of the world to see what their Judaism means to them. That, half a 34-person circle later, spawned what I said. Everybody up to me had talked about how emotional they feel about being in Israel and how it's this big fulfillment of their entire life, etc, etc, etc. I hope they all bought it because I'm a little dubious on . . . let's see . . . all of it. I noted that for me this entire trip is more of an intellectual exercise than an emotional journey. My journey, like theirs, is spiritual too. Mine however is spiritual in that, like Tom, I enjoy meeting and visiting different Jews from all over the world. I don't feel, at least not yet, that there is any sort of return home going on here. I do not live in exile. I live in Texas. I live in the United States. I like it there. I don't feel that The Temple is important any longer. In the long tradition of North American Reform Judaism, I call my palce of worship "Temple." Thus, arriving at the wall I felt like I was looking at just another congregation of Jews. I didn't feel like perhaps everyone else did: moved.
Being at the wall was only as interesting as being at the Colliseum was when my family visited Rome when I was younger. It was an intellectual exercise. Nothing more.
Coming soon to this blog: Reuven gestures madly about the story of Kibbutz Tzuba, and I go on an archaeological dig, and I blither about services.
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Live from Israel: DAVID JUST BITCHED ABOUT THE WALL