Standing at the top of the mountain, across the Western Wall Plaza, I can see thousands of people streaming in from all directions. Jews of all colors and manners of dress, and many non-Jews among them, make their way as if by some magnetic attraction, to the Western Wall.
The evening sky is cool and clear, yet the air is thick with a buzzing energy – a strange heat that cannot be measured by temperature, but by frequency and rhythm. The city is on fire. You can feel the energy pulsating, not just of the thousands of people moving and gravitation toward the Temple Mount, but of thousands of years of yearning – the yearning of the Jewish people for their home, and the yearning of humanity for a better world, one which was crushed when these walls came down. It is all coming together at this single juncture in time and space, like a narrow precipice overwhelmed by sudden sunrise, and I am somehow right here at this moment, at this place, after all these years.
It is chaos all around as people are moving and laughing and talking and shouting and praying in all directions, yet an uncommon peacefulness envelopes the throng. Like a blissful, choreographed symphony of bodies in joyous, purposeful motion and sound, they walk, each to their own song, yet in unison and in harmony, blending, forming a wondrous tapestry that paints the city. As the sun sets, emitting a deep glow, the multicolored streams of people begin to take on its hue and merge in the redness – flowing red now, like blood streaming through the city’s veins, the lifeline of Jerusalem, her children.
In the narrow alleyways to the east through which many make their way, the Arab shopkeepers, ignored by the passing crowds, observe it all in silence – perhaps indifference, or a feigned indifference born of awe. What is this insane disruption to their evening routine? From where do they come, week after week, as the sun sets on Friday afternoon, illuminating the night with their shining, young faces?
The prayers begin. The curtain lifts. Shabbat is welcomed. Reality shifts. Everything, and everyone, is beautiful.
Or is it? Is this even real, or merely a facade that covers the true and sordid state of affairs? If not, then how could this moment exist so innocently when one day earlier, at this very place, we witnessed such blatant ugliness. Jewish brothers and sisters defied one another with angry disregard – throwing insults and bottles, spitting, hating, making mocking spectacles of themselves and one another. Most came to a holy place to pray privately, to connect. But some clearly came packing ulterior motives hidden from plain sight by their professed piety, but laid bare by their callousness and insensitivity. They defiled the Torah they claim to safeguard and desecrated the God they allegedly serve in the one place where pure and untainted hope should still be found. They spew irreverence for the sake of self-preservation, make spectacle for the sake of politics, hijack religion for the sake of self-justification. It is easy to see why many think that not much is really all that sacred anymore. If not for the teachings of my Rebbes, I would most certainly think so myself.
I search within for answers, but all I find is my patience wearing thin. I’m getting tired of blaming naiveté and ignorance to excuse the hypocrisy, because this very kind of hatred caused these walls to burn to begin with. Everyone has their prejudice, and everyone has an agenda. If we can admit it, then maybe we can get past it and embrace (or at least accept) the truth that unites us. If we lie about it, if we hide behind ideologies and idols of our own making, the resulting fragmentation will pull us further and further apart.
In the fervor to defend a besieged Jerusalem from the Romans, the Jews, our ancestors, turned on one another because they disagreed on how to save the city. Is that to be our fate? Are there not enough enemies who want to destroy us that we have to defeat ourselves? After two thousand years of general misery that we are only just beginning to climb out of, let alone heal from, is this how we will define our collective direction as a people now that we have real power? Is this how we will evolve a better era? Is this how we will serve as a light unto the world?
I used to find the Western Wall depressing. I thought, when one considers the truthfulness and majesty of what was once there upon the Temple Mount, how can one look at the pathetic, crumbling segment of a haphazardly reconstructed retaining wall that remains and feel inspired? Then I came to appreciate that it is not the Wall that makes the sanctity of the place. It is the energy of the people who come here, the precious souls of all colors who merge together in the fading twilight and become one, embracing the oneness and each other, if even for a brief momentary taste of what could be, of what must be. And if we lose that, what will we have left?
Izzy Greenberg is a writer, scholar and teacher of Jewish thought and mysticism, as well as the Creative Director of Tekiyah Creative (tekiyah.com). To learn more and read his writings, visit izzygreenberg.com.