How Am I Supposed to Feel?

Emily Goldberg
October 16, 2013
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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.

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Emily Goldberg is a freshman at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. She loves sharing her perspective on faith and religion, especially with her own growing Jewish community. She began recording her own ideas in her blog, “A Leap of Faith.” In the future, she hopes to pursue interfaith studies, social action, theology, and writing. This past summer she joined a life-long community of Jewish thinkers and leaders, The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel. This year, she pursued her passion for spiritual leadership through her rabbinic internship at Romemu [www.romemu.org], her pastoral internship at St. Patrick's Cathedral and her job as a counselor at Camp Ramah Darom in Georgia. She hopes to lead a liberal and innovative Jewish community of her own someday, one where others can be inspired to pursue coexistence and positive change.

1 Comment

  1. Dear Emily Goldberg and other readers,
    The Kotel, well, it’s the one proof we have to a very big story. It’s the “we are still here and always will be” symbol to the world that Israel was always ours. The Kotel is our physical deed to ownership of the land of Yehuda and Israel.
    To me, an Israely born and educated, although I reside in the US, the Kotel, when I visit, is breath taking, my heart fills with pride, in 1967, during the 6 day war I was just a toddler but was exhilarated by the national feeling of unity when the wall was back in our possession. This cold wall is a historical anchor for the Jewish people. I would say that this awesome feeling of belonging, and of understanding who I am, and where my origins are from and being respectful of all that, is that feeling you may be missing. I would think it would be engrained in one from home, and also via the environment you have grown up within.
    I wish for you that the next time you visit, you look up at this cold giant wall and try to imagine a huge family tree, and your name is there within the others. Feel that you are part of the claim to the land of Israel. Be a proud partner to the ownership of this wall.
    And remember, many people gave their life for us to walk freely towards that wall, to be able to stick a note with a wish between the rocks. in my humble opinion there is no second to the kotel in terms of feeling connected.

    Posted by
    Iris Barak
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