The Kotel and Negotiated Space

Cheryl Goldstein
October 10, 2013
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It seems almost unnecessary to say that the Kotel is iconic. As a signifier of the historic tie of the Jewish people to Jerusalem, the Kotel, provides a physical manifestation of what appears to be an intersection of religious and Zionist destinies. But this point of convergence, this mythic meeting place, continues to confront us with a range of religious, political, and historical collisions.

I stood at the Kotel late on a Shabbat morning in 2010 alongside women who were weeping, their heads pressed against the stones. On the other side of the mechitzah, seemingly in another world, a late morning minyan (redundant to say, but of men) was reading Torah. On the women’s side we were each left to ourselves, while on the other side of the partition there was community. And what made this division particularly striking was the fact that our isolation was not optional, not chosen. It was not that we were exercising a right to solitude but, rather, that we were by definition outside the community. In that moment, being confronted with not counting as an equal member of the community at the Wall, I realized that Jerusalem, a city now united, left me feeling dispossessed, standing in a house divided. We were a people called to this place together, but some of us remained on the outside.

All intimate relationships experience cycles of rupture and repair. Ruptures can be more or less traumatic with variable consequences. The process of repair often bears witness to the intensity and seriousness of the rupture itself. We might refer to the consequences of this process as an “emotional scars,” and it might be the case that things never return to the way they “used to be.” Injuries sustained during an emotional conflict, especially those that occur when our most fundamental ideals are challenged or threatened, result in lasting scars. The relationship survives, but it is not the same. A scar simultaneously marks the ability to recover while it reminds us that we have suffered. We have been put back together, but we are not the same. There has been a tear in our internal fabric, and we hope that the stitches that put us back together will hold.

Just outside the Old City is the Museum on the Seam. Housed in a building that served as an Israeli Army outpost when Jerusalem was divided, the museum exhibits works that speak of the cultural consequences of rupture and repair and processes that continue to resonate as a consequence Jerusalem’s reunification. The name of the museum calls attention to the constructed nature of peace. The “seam” holds things together, but it reminds us that they could again fall apart. Like a scar, a seam marks a point of construction. It designates a boundary, a place of meeting and a limit of contact, the point

The Kotel, particularly the Kotel as icon, represents the solidity of a reunited Jerusalem. At the same time, the mechitzah at the Kotel, like the Museum on the Seam, exposes the boundaries and tensions underlying that “unity.” Had it not been for Israel’s success in the Six Day War we would still suffer the pain of a divided Jerusalem. But in repairing the fractured Jerusalem we have exposed the “seams” that mark our social, political, cultural, and religious boundaries. The Wall support us. The Wall divides us. As a Jewish woman my relationship with the Kotel involves this ongoing negotiation. I feel bound to the Kotel by connections that, like strings, tug, sometimes painfully, upon my heart.

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Cheryl Goldstein Cheryl Goldstein got her Ph.D. from UCLA in Comparative Literature and works in the areas of literature, psychoanalysis, and Jewish identity. Currently an Assistant Professor of Comparative World Literature at Cal State University, Long Beach she is also a student research clinical psychoanalyst and has a Masters in Rabbinic Literature.

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