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Israel Diary: Between a Rock and a Hard Place – part 1

Two days after coming to Israel we finally made the 20 minute walk down to that place which had, from the moment of my arrival, sat ever present in my consciousness.

the one site that is on everyone’s “ToDo” list when they come to Israel. The image used more than any other (at least in the USA) when the news runs some report about “Israel”. THE place. The Western wall.

Isabelle was still sick and jet-lagged, and Debbie offered to stay back at the hotel with her while the rest of us forged on down the hill to the old city.

I was struck (yet again) by my American attitude about where things “ought” to be. Jerusalem is not some “HolyLand” equivalent of a Disney resort. Sites are not arranged logically or within easy walking distance of each other, for the comfort of tourists who can goggle at a particular view before grabbing a frozen mochachino and move easily to stand in line for the “Time Elevator” ride. The Wall is at the heart of the Old City – a real live city – where people lived (and still live) and move about. Which means it’s walkable in the same way you can walk from the Empire State Building to Washington Square Park. Or from the Lincoln Memorial to the Congress building. Which is to say: you certainly CAN walk from one to the other, but don’t expect it to take 5 minutes or for there to be park benches every 10 feet along the way.

Moving through the Old City was one of the moments when having Heather – the veteran of Israeli excursions in our family – with us was a blessing. She immediately turned off the main route onto some side streets which took us through quiet residential areas, ancient Byzantine-arched tunnels, and lesser known market areas that sold anachronistic oddities like paint (seriously. Glidden latex flat interior. Right there next to a hookah shop.). We avoided the sensory overload of the main streets, coming out close to the archaeological discoveries and boutique shops that site just outside the security checkpoint to the plaza overlooking the Kotel.

The plaza itself seemed, to my perception at least, to stretch for miles before ending with the short green metal barrier that differentiated “out here” from “in there”, as well as framing the ramps down to the women’s side (on the right) and men’s side (on the left). Heather and I determined how we’d find each other again, and I set off with the boys for the men’s area. I felt self conscious and also oddly detached as we made our way down the ramp. In my head, I knew that this was A BIG MOMENT. One of those instances when everything could change. Yet I was also in “Daddy” mode – trying to keep track of my kids, guage their reaction and mediate if necessary, and also ensure their actions weren’t impacting someone else’s BIG MOMENT.

It turns out many of us respond to big moments in ways that are both in character and surprising.

Kaleb – the 7 year old whose speed setting is permanently set to “run” closed the distance first. Arriving at a block of stone almost as tall as himself, he reached out with a hand in a movement that seemed to say “tag, now you’re it. Catch me if you can.” after which he turned and ran back to my side.

Joram’s actions that truly caught me short. With an air of complete confidence, he walked up to an opening that seemed to have been left specifically for him. Laying his forehead against the ancient stones, he stood perfectly still (which is NOT Joram’s usual state of being).

It became clear to me in that moment that Joram wasn’t visiting. He didn’t have to squeeze in or find a place. Because on this day, Joram had come home to Jerusalem and taken HIS place – the one that had been waiting here for him all this time.

I stood there, rooted to the spot, unable to shift my focus to anything else – least of all my own prayers. In retrospect, I think Joram did the praying for both of us. In fact, knowing how big his heart is when he’s at his best, I’d be willing to be Joram did the praying for ALL of us in that moment.

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