Understanding God through love.
Back in July 2019, I had the opportunity to go on a Birthright trip to Israel. My specific tour was made up of Russian-Jews, all from the East Coast of the United States, except for a few people. The trip marked the first time I would be flying overseas without my parents. Though I had my childhood friend Rebecca by my side, I still felt immense stress and nervousness. People always told me that “birthright changes you” and “you’re going to come back different” but never knew exactly what I was getting myself into. After finally coming home and reflecting upon my journey, I can undoubtedly say that this experience did, in fact, change me. Though the whole trip was a memorable and cathartic journey, one-day in particular will forever be the catalyst for what shifted my view on life. That day was July 19, the day our group visited the Western Wall.
The day before the Western Wall, also known as the “Wailing Wall,” our trip leaders briefed us on the extreme emotional journal we would experience. None of us took them seriously. Sure, this place was of extreme religious seriousness… but it was ultimately just a wall, right?
We arrived at the wall around 10 a.m., herding ourselves through the crowd of morning worshipers. As we walked past the wall for our informational session on its history, I was not struck by anything special or spiritual. The limestone wall was a pale yellow color by the morning sun and a lot smaller than I had initially anticipated. Two sections separated the men and women worshipers. Before our group disbanded, we were once more briefed on the emotional experience we could undergo. As the wall stood behind me, I again, doubted I would feel any strong emotion.
The girls and I started walking towards the women’s section. Once we entered, there was an overwhelming sight of countless women, some holding small children, praying and crying. Some wailed like they had experienced tragedy, but the air felt electric. The more I walked towards the wall, it grew taller, seemingly extending further from the ground and kissing the sky. I found an empty spot against the wall between two women. To my right, one had her forehead pressed against her wall, reading and reciting scripture with tears streaming down her face. On my left, a woman clutched her child against her chest, her forehead also pressed against the wall as she rocked her baby back and forth, chanting prayers while kissing her child. I looked up, waiting for some type of a messiah to look back down at me, but nothing. I was overwhelmed by the extreme emotion of the lackluster wall; after awkwardly glancing around for a clue on what to do, I put my hand against the wall for some guidance.
The second my hand felt the cool limestone, I was flooded with the most intense and warm emotions I have ever felt. My childhood memories, both good and bad, flooded my mind; flashes of faces belonging to who I love most in the world reminded me of what I was living for. I felt pure happiness. Suddenly, I sensed tears streaming down my face, too. The overwhelming love I felt for myself, my past, my family, all of the ups and downs of life became a blessing. At that moment, I was one with every single woman at the wall. We all, for that one instant, loved each other unconditionally. The weight of life felt light as a feather, all of the troubles we face seemed to have been answered by love. As my mind flashed back to my parents, I remembered the notes they had given me to place on the wall. I reached for them and set the pieces of paper in my right hand, keeping my left hand on the wall while pressing my forehead onto the stone; I had begun to pray for the first time in my life. I prayed for my parents, my sister, my friends, and for you. I had prayed that everyone in the world would experience the purity and genuine love I was experiencing. With my eyes closed, I saw my prayers flow through my lips, into the cracks of the wall, shooting upward into the sky and dispersing throughout the universe.
When I had finished, I looked deeply at the notes my parents had given me. My mother’s was neatly rolled into a tight, even cylinder, without any imperfection. My father’s was folded into a little paper airplane. His reasoning was that so his “note would fly across the world.” As I looked at these notes, it struck me how perfect of a representation these were of both of my parents. The letters felt heavy in my hands as I felt my parent’s presence surrounding me. They were both with me at that moment, just like they will be forever. I searched around for an open spot to put their notes, which proved to be difficult since every crack past 5’11” was packed to the brim with letters from past worshipers. Finally, I found somewhere I could place my parent’s notes side by side.
Taking a few more moments to resonate in the moment, I decided it was time to go, not wanting to overstay and spoil the present. I began to walk away from the wall backward, as I had been instructed to do by my trip leader, Abby; keeping my eyes fixated on my parents’ notes. I walked away, feeling like I had left a piece of my heart at the wall. Once I walked further enough away, I saw the rest of the girls in my group also appearing from the crowd; all of them were crying like I was. When we gathered and hugged each other, fully knowing the intensity of emotion we had just felt. I hugged girls I barely knew, girls I thought didn’t like me. But nothing mattered at that moment; what we felt was a borderline spiritual awakening. In all corniness, we felt the love of God. We left the women’s section and met with the boys, who were also beginning to come out of their overwhelmed state, some of their eyes red and cheeks dosed in fresh tears. Though they didn’t like to admit it, we all knew they cried like babies just like we did. Some of them still had indentations on their skin from the tefillin, a set of black boxes strung together by a black string with pieces of Torah scripture inside that is only worn by men. We all hugged each other, embracing in the shared newfound love and respect we gained for one another, ourselves, and our religion.
I had never been particularly religious. I still don’t consider myself as such, but the wall taught me that no one, not even the deepest of sinners, is unworthy of love. Love is the healing force that not only drives our lives but fulfills a greater purpose. Transcending all pointless human grievances. The wall was just a portion of the trip that profoundly changed me; I will be ever grateful for the privilege of seeing the Western Wall in person.