The “I am a Wall” Nation

Jared Gimbel
October 3, 2013
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The first day of Sukkot came with its “Hoshanot”, the promenade around the synagogue with its alphabetical chants to be heard and much flora to be seen.

While looking at the ArtScroll Siddur, following each phrase as the congregation recited it, there stood  one phrase that instantly took hold of my thoughts.

Om Ani Khomah” – The “‘I am a WallNation”. One version of the “Hoshanot” was laid out with this being the first chant in the set.

At first glance, the three words seemed to have the relevance of a surrealist painting. But trying to think of what other nation could qualify as an “I am a Wall” nation, none came to mind.

One surface meaning was obvious: the “Wall” in question was the Kotel, despite the fact that the Hebrew word used is Khomah, as opposed to Kotel.

Thinking further, the Western Wall was a remnant of a structure that represented the resplendent grandeur and political machinations of the Second Temple period.

It was a time in which countless sects of Jews asked of themselves and of others, “what is to be done”? The choices of assimilation, integration, or isolationism, of attachment to the Temple Service, the Scriptures, and how to interpret the Mosaic Law—the menu of possibilities was immense, and sometimes downright dangerous.

Since the destruction of the Second Temple, Herod’s structures are mostly gone. The Western Wall and the Robinson Arch remain.

But what does this have to do with the idea of the “I am a Wall” nation?

Here are my thoughts:

There used to be four walls surrounding the Temple Mount. According to a Legend popularly recounted in learning circles during the weeks before Tisha B’av, the Western Wall was spared eradication. Vespasian wanted his armies to raze all four, but one general, Pangar, spared the one to the West.

His reasoning was as follows: if all four walls were destroyed, no one would be able to relate to the power of the armies used in the conquest.

The Western Wall survives until this day, a piece of the culture that of which everyone has an incomplete picture.

Another vestige of that time that survives is the culture of the Talmudists. The Rabbinic Culture that created the foundation for today’s Judaism was only one of countless choices of serving the God of Israel back then—the reason it survived so well was because it adapted to the changes that followed the conquest of Jerusalem.

The Eastern, Northern, and Southern Walls could be symbols for the other versions of worshiping God, those that could not survive the turmoil that followed the Second destruction.

We will likely never know anything about the many sects that died along with the Second Temple.

The Western Wall is a structure that remained.

The Rabbinic Culture of today is a descendant of what remained.

The Jewish People, the Children of Israel, is only a slice of what could have been, one wall of a Temple with other dimensions that we cannot fully glimpse.

Whoever wrote of the “I am a Wall” nation in the Hoshanot wrote wisely.

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Jared Gimbel is the founder of “Present Presence,” an initiative devoted to fostering positive images of communities throughout the Jewish Diaspora to North American and Israeli Audiences. He is currently a Masters Degree Candidate at Hochschule für Jüdische Studien Heidelberg, and has been a Jewish community activist while living in the United States, Israel, Poland, Sweden and Germany. Jared has served as a tour guide, editor and translator at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Cracow, and was also a fellow at the Paideia Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden. In 2011 he wrote his Bachelor’s thesis on non-human species in European mythologies, and his upcoming Masters’ Thesis focuses on perspectives and portrayals of Jewish Life in Finland and in Greece. When he’s not working, he enjoys collecting pop music from many different countries, and is always in the process of learning a new language.

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