Saturday, October 28, 2006

Like Talking to A Wall (But Not Quite) -------

I said that I would actually begin to write journals here, a veering away from my regular essays and political, religious, spiritual commentaries on Jewish and wordly matters. Studying in a yeshiva and being in Israel is providing me with things worthy for me to enter into a journal.

The stones and sidewalks of Jerusalem were wettened by the rain, which we had prayed for, and although the sky was gray, the air was transparent and the light of G-d shone through it. The off-white stones of Jerusalem's sidewalks held in them little puddlings that collected dirt, yet were not slippery; the stones of Jerusalem stabilize a person on his path. I had no clue that Jerusalem was as lush of a place as it was; certain areas included trees reaching over peoples' yard fences, green leaves hanging near your face as you passed houses. We took a left turn down a narrow winding flight of off-white stairs that opened into a paved walkway circling a little garden area - the stairs compensating for the City's being built on a hill. On Shabbat we went to do bikkur cholim, visiting of the sick, which is a mitzvah in the Torah, and as it says in Shacharit (the morning service), bikkur cholim is one of those mitzvahs that has a special effect on your place in the Olam Haba, the World to Come.

Upon arrival, we visited several sick and/or simply people with minor injuries. Some were elderly, some young, some American, some Israeli's, some Arabs. With us were three of Rabbi Aidilman's kids, seven and a half, nine, and twelve. Most of our songs were Shabbat songs, and many of the people sang along with us. As I expected before coming to Israel, I knew that my views would be challenged. Some have so far been confirmed, but many new paths have been opened up, one because I'm studying in a yeshiva and being exposed to the farther reaches of Judaism so far in my development, and others having to do with the social landscapes of the Land and State of Israel. Israel is the only place in the world where Arabs speak Hebrew, and so we asked a mother covered in a hijab if she wanted us to sing her young son. She said that we could, but since all we had were Shabbat songs, and Muslims don't observe Shabbat, Snir, my friend, juggled for him and walked on his hands for about thirty seconds. The boy, whom had a bandage wrapped around his head and reminded me of a boy I had seen in a Palestinian propaganda video, was appreciative and smiled. The other boy in the room also enjoyed the show and I tried to speak with him in the little Arabic that I know. It was the parents who seemed uncomfortable, if any about the bearded, kippah-and-tzitzis-wearing Jews, more than the kids, but maybe this is altogether something that I'm thinking. When we finished we told them "goodbye" and left with our tzitziyot (stringed undershirts that Jewish men are required to wear) trailing behind us. To think that I had almost taken my normal Shabbos shluff (Shabbat nap) than doing this.

Later that night, after beginning kitchen duty with a number of other people, I and a few bachurim (yeshiva students) went to a Sbarro (pizza restaurant) where we met up with Rabbi Holland and his family from Scottsdale. On the way, we also ran into Yitz (John Pierce), Jordan Krizman, and Dan and Arielle Cucher. After the meal and benching, I decided to depart from them and to take the opportunity to go to the Kotel, the Western Wall, the holiest place in the world, and for Jews.

It was night. The walk was not very far and my friends had told me the general direction, so I walked down the streets inching towards it. On a map, I was less than a millimeter east from where the Wall was. At a point, I reached a wide arched corridor-area, still with the off-white Jerusalem stone filled with puddlings of water, lit up by low yellow lights that reminded me of the sauce-soaked color of the chicken that my Savta (grandma on my mother's side) used to cook when she was physically alive. I sporadically passed people, both stationary and walking in the other direction, as well as walking in my direction but more quickly. Most were seemingly observant folk, some Chassidim, like the three gentlemen in the black suits and shtreimels (furry hats that some Chassidic Jews wear). I inched my way closer and closer to the Kotel and in an open area of space. I just veered off the main street when I saw the ramparts of one of the outside walls of Jerusalem's Temple; to the left of me were modern buildings and cars swishing by, to the right of me were ancient walls and streets that led to more ancient walls, I took a right and was glad that this was not the Kotel, I don't remember it being so close to the hustle and bustle of traffic. In an area of open black sky, I could see David's Citadel in a space between two buildings nearer to me; I thought that it might have been one tfach, a hand-breadth, so I put my hand in the air and it was the width of one knuckle. As I went down the ramp the tip of the Citadel was buried by the rising horizon of the buildings. On the other side of the buildings where the Citadel was plainly visible in its entire height, a woman who I would guess was in her late forties, and a man she was with, probably her husband, had stopped walking and she was taking a picture of David's Citadel.

Down a ramp, I crossed a street that seemed like an intersection although much smaller, and began walking down an even narrower corridor of the same type. All the corridors had a similar attribute, every fifteen or so feet there were two stairs then one, and these strange ramps a feet or so to the sides of the stairs, as if for one to walk down if the stairs proved difficult. Since the ramp was a bit wider than the width of a human foot, I think that it was built to allow water to slip down and into the drains, a modern model of something that surely must have existed here during the continuing life-span of the City. Jerusalem, and Israel by extension, is the confluence of ancient next to modern, and I finally understood that the confluence strips both words of their meaning and forces one to recognize that the nature of things is always the same.

I passed a house on the left in which I heard an Arabic song crying out and thought to myself, "This is how Jerusalem is." I tried to make sense of the blue Arabic writing I saw on the walls but wasn't able to, and passed by a few shady looking youngsters who were sitting in the corridors, darker than the previous ones. One had a cap which I thought was a kippah, and as I passed them I looked straight ahead. As I saw a few Arab women and some men, I realized torn posters on the walls of a kaffiya-ed person whom was probably Yasser Arafat, and realized that even though maps show where the Green Line seperates, stumbling into the shadier areas of the West Bank is not too difficult for one whom is not familiar with Jerusalem. I realized suddenly where I was, a Jew wearing a kippah on his head and his tzitzis flailing at his side, no place for a Jew to be at night. I saw that the corridor continued to a wall that might have only allowed a left or a right turn, I kept myself calm, walked a bit more as to not seem totally lost, and turned around to exit the area which I had just entered, repassing the three youth, one whom had spit a particle of something onto the ground.

Amazingly, it only took me three minutes or so to reach the Kotel area, and my heart de-constricted when I saw the Hebrew sign reading "Kotel." Just around the corner was a place where I might go and never come back, and here was the holiest place in the Jewish world. I was walking in an open-air corridor upstairs from the Kotel Plaza facing it head-on, and in between the slender, cubicle metal bars, I looked at the Kotel. I stopped for a moment, wrapped my hands around them, and considered what I was seeing but concluded that standing to look at such a thing is fruitless and so I continued. I asked the Ethiopian Jew how to get down to the Plaza just as I saw the stairway; he didn't have to check me for weapons.

As I walked down the stairs, which reminded me of the stairs leading down from some Library of Congress-type building, I allowed the whole scene of the Kotel, to sink into my vision. People were walking here and there, it was not too busy, Chassids with Shtreimels, men and women, secular and religious, a French family, and a tour group bunched together just taking in the view. In the section farther from the Wall was an Israeli army jeep with blue lights just watchdogging the area, which is how I am thoroughly convinced it should be. I walked slowly as I did down the corridors where I let my thoughts build into heaps and buildings; I had all the time I needed here. I walked closer and closer to the Kotel and was amazed at its size, the closer I neared it, the more impossible it was to keep it all in my purview, until the one little section in front of me was enough.

Four years ago, I would have had to wear one of the "Kotel crews" paper kippahs, but now I wore my own, along with the beard on my face and my tzitzis; they could keep them for somebody new. Green plants burst forth from the crevasses between the meeting points of the huge bricks, also where dozens and dozens of small pieces of paper of all colors with prayers written on them were bunched into the crevasses, and up to the left a dove or pigeon was perched in a ridge, with its head shoved into its body, probably to stay warm. I neared the Kotel and put my hands on the it, then let my forehead touch it, then the surface of my face, and then I kissed it. One whom has not been to the Kotel for a period of time, four years for me, is halachically (Jewish Law-wise) required to tear his outermost garment the length of one tfach (a handbreadth). The feeling there was somber as if I had been on the surface of the moon, and I stood there for several moments with my face to the Wall, took off my overshirt and placed it on a chair behind me, and grabbed the place where I had made the cut over my heart to tear my shirt. As I tore the shirt to comemorate the destruction of the Temple, I began to cry, and I neared my face to the Wall and the tears made it as shiny as did the raindrops on the sidewalk. I took off my glasses and put them in my pocket because the vision I needed here was without my eyes. I could near my face closer to the Wall and look into the tear drops hanging on its shapes, in which the lights from behind me were refracted and broken into crystals and were glistening.

My crying continued for several long moments - there was no reason to try to stop, it felt good, although I cannot explictly explain why exactly, other than the obvious, I was crying. There was something more to it than just that and it's a bit mysterious. When I finished, I wiped my face on my shirt, took the siddur from off the chair behind me, opened up to Ma'ariv (the evening servince) and davined (prayed) it there. When I got to the Shema I put my face to the Kotel and slightly cried through its words. After finishing the prayers, I said specific prayers for my dad, mom, sister, and then myself. Afterwards I walked backwards away from the Wall, and when I got to a certain dividing line, I turned around, and went to the right to the mainstreet to catch the bus back to the yeshiva. The big Israeli flag was right where it should have been, in the center of the Plaza in the walkway area. On the way towards the exit I turned around and was far enough away from the huge Kotel to see the Al-Aqsa mosque, dull and non-reflective in the night.