I am sitting in an alleyway in Nachlaot, Jerusalem. Alone. A cool breeze, the smell of Awe approaching. Alley cats saunter by, fathers shuffle with their sons one step behind, prayers echo through pathways, permeating stone walls and fleeting shadows. But mostly, there is space. Space. Something that I have been incessantly chasing for a while now. A little breathing room… A little break from the chatter inside.
I begin to walk.
I am walking through the underground tunnels beneath the Western Wall. With every step I take on the worn stone pathways, I feel the growing weight of years past, weight resting upon my head in turbans of silk and antiquity. My children walk next to me, singing, inexplicably comfortable in these ancient burrows. I walk with a confidence nurtured by my foremothers who walked the same tunnel roads, my held held high with the strength of purpose, of dignity, of nobility.
But still, there is noise.
So now I dance. I am dancing with my daughter beside me along the road on Yaffo street to the beat of a band of two men playing guitar and flute. Laugh, dance, skip and flow to the tune of this light-filled Holy city, with the ease of being in a place you feel you belong.
I guess there’s a sense of irony that only within this City of Walls I feel a true freedom to be myself… To let my guard down and let go. Israel is a place where I’ve been told time and time again, “You really fit in,” “You are so in your element here” and “You should totally be living here!” And it’s true: I do really fit in here, I am completely in my element here (as is my family) and I often do wonder why I am not living in this majestic place, where I can really, truly, utterly breathe. A place where diversity thrives, square is a long lost shape and one’s connection to Gd is nuanced and personal. Our technicolor Land whose stones speak and waters whisper, all stories of our collective ancestors who lived, fought and died here… Our home.
For so long, every time I traveled here, this place held the answers for me. I knew I would come to the Land and instantly feel calm. A sense of belonging that canceled all the static surrounding my soul.
So I walk toward the Kotel, the Wailing Wall, to face the noise inside.
I am transported back to another time fifteen years ago when I stood at this same place, inches away from The Wall. I stood there, my mind swirling with so many questions and doubts… So much noise.
Who am I? Who would I marry? Where would I live? What would I do? Would I find my place in Jewish community? Would I ever belong? Would anyone ever love me? … At that moment, I laid my cheek on The Wall. My hot tears mixed with the cool, smooth stone. And suddenly, almost Divinely inspired, I began to murmur the words, “Thank you Gd… Thank you… Thank you…” I started thinking about all that I had to be grateful for, everything that despite the noise was so good, so meaningful, so real. “Thank you… Thank you… Thank you…” Over and over and over again.
Slowly, all my questions dissipated. I was overwhelmed with a sense of utter calm and purpose. Everything would be OK – scratch that: everything would be perfect. I am not alone in this world. He is taking care of me – always. My mantra of gratitude took away all my doubts and fears. The Kotel, with it’s silky stones and ethereal atmosphere, acted as an autofocus button on my puzzling, angst-ridden life. Click… crystal clear.
But the clarity didn’t last. Fifteen years and many trips to the Land later, I am back at this Wall. Same place. Same longing for space. Once more, I stand here with a heart encased within it’s own fortified walls of fear. There is so much to fix and no where left to hide.
I lay my tear-stained cheek on The Wall again, waiting for the cool stone to neutralize my pain as it did last time… I stand waiting for the space to begin work it’s magic and fill me with clarity as in times past. To turn down the noise inside.
But I stand waiting. Where is the stillness?
It does not come. This time, the Kotel remains a bystander to my pain. This time, there is no easy button to press to pull my life into picture-perfect clarity.
I continue to travel The Land. And this is the thought that begins to emerge: perhaps the time for the easy fix is gone. As much as this place has nurtured me in the past, no place, however holy and sublime, can replace the work I need to do to create the space I crave inside.
None of the actors in our lives, all the people we love and the things that give us comfort, can unlock our hearts and take away our fears. They only hold our hands.
Ultimately, we hold the hammer that can break our own walls.
Ultimately, we strike the blow, watching the walls crumble, deeply breathing as we feel release, finally experiencing some stillness inside.
Ultimately, we have to emerge as our own saviors.