In my previous post, I mentioned there was one particular experience in Israel that will remain forever etched in my brain. It's the same type of moment I had a few years back when I was in Venice and my family wanted to take a gondola ride.
How corny, I thought. What a tourist trap, I snickered. Wouldn't be caught dead, I vowed.
But I didn't want to be left behind while my mom, sister and brother-in-law floated away, so I reluctantly joined them. As we glided through the still waters, I realized that the evening hour masked the graffiti and litter lining the canals that I'd noticed earlier in the day. Instead, serenaded by an accordion player no less, the beautiful lights of Venice sparkled in the crisp, clear night sky above and shimmered in their watery reflection below, lending a surreal, dream-like quality to the hour-long ride. It was one of the most magical and ethereal experiences of my entire life.
And now, to that very exclusive list of memorable moments, I'm adding Shabbat at the Kotel (Western or "Wailing" Wall).
The day before, on a bright sunny Thursday, we had already toured the Old City of Jerusalem. And so, I wasn't expecting anything different when we returned on Friday, right before sunset, to celebrate the Jewish Day of Rest, Shabbat.
Our tour guide, Sharon, escorted our group of 15 to a rooftop centered in the middle of the holy Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian Quarters. Below we could see people beginning to gather at the Western Wall. As the sun set, the day's 68 degree weather quickly dropped to the high 40s. We wrapped our coats tightly as we sat cross-legged in a circle and discussed the meaning of Shabbat.
It's a festive day, Sharon explained, in which both religious and secular Jews take a break from the tasks and chores of everyday life. It's an opportunity to unplug, mediate, and recharge while reconnecting with loved ones and contemplating the spiritual aspects of life. As she spoke, the Islamic Call to Prayer sounded over the speakers and echoed through the crisp night air, rendering us silent. There was an otherworldly beauty in the sound and I knew the goosebumps on my skin weren't because of the dipping temperature.
"Now let's celebrate Shabbat at the Wall," Sharon concluded. With a quick reminder that photography isn't allowed during Shabbat, we went down the winding stone steps to join the massive crowd.
By now it was dark, but nearby lamps provided a soft, well-lit golden glow. I made my way through the women's section, wiggling through packed bodies like I was at a Springsteen concert and not at one of the holiest spots on earth. Many people were socializing with giddy joy while others were rocking in silent prayer. Earlier, Sharon had mentioned, "...if ever there's a direct line to God, this is the place," and now, standing here, just feet from the Wall, I believed her. I couldn't deny the palatable charge in the air. There was an electricity like I'd never felt before.
And to my surprise, I felt compelled to pray. Something I haven't done in years, not since losing my mother, which had a profound and shattering affect on my faith.
I prayed for a dear friend who is fighting prostate cancer. I prayed for the health and well-being of my loved ones. And, not wanting to push my luck but just in case the Big Fella was still speaking to me, I closed with a prayer of my own: help with my blood disorder (nicknamed The Blood Thingy because it's so rare it doesn't even have a name).
After several minutes of meditation at the Wall, I made my way back where it was less crowded and I could silently soak in the bustling activity around me: Joyous schoolgirls laughing with their friends. Hasidic Jews rushing to and fro. Singing circles of dancing men, individuals in silent prayer, and parents chasing after roaming toddlers. I took mental snapshots, never wanting to forget these sights and sounds. I also took one very specific mental note: that of my time at the Western Wall.
A time when I realized I might still believe.