I really didn’t understand why I felt like I did in that moment. I’m usually quite removed from emotion, even when it involves someone close to me but as I closed in on this solid, unfeeling, unaware piece of masonry I completely shattered. I choked, my eyes welled up and my heart broke. No one would be more surprised than I was.
It’s easy for me to look back at my recent trip to Israel as simple a sight seeing tour but my time there turned much of my life upside down. As many of you may know I stay home due to medical issues and this ‘spiritualbabies’ thing is what I spend most of my time doing and between recording, editing, studying and sharing time online it fills my week very nicely. I enjoy what I do. I was comfortable. I had all my ducks in a row and was pretty secure in my understanding of the things that related to me. I was wrong on so much. During my time in Israel it became very clear very quickly that my perception of the things I held close to my heart was flawed and just like some artists impression of a person, it lacked character, dimension and colour. I built my understanding of Israel, the land, the people and their shared history from stagnant sources, from a corpse when they are very much alive.
I wondered if I would have that ‘heart bump’ moment when we landed in Tel Aviv that I had heard so many express, that – ‘I’m home’ feeling, but it didn’t come. After that point I resigned to myself the fact that my stony cold core wasn’t going to get a spiritual emotional slap anytime soon. What I didn’t know was I was in for an aerial assault over the course of the tour. So many personal totems that I set up as ‘truth’ were demolished. The land that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walked isn’t an alien landscape from some other time, it’s right there. We stood on the rock that the Mishkan was built on. The dust and dirt that Joshua trod on was between my toes. The Ark that contained the stones of the covenant shared the same air that I breathed. Real land. Real people. Real places.
Jerusalem. I can only speak for myself. The word summed up 3 things, The place where God placed His name, an old city and terrorism. Those definitions were the result of my ‘world’s view’ interaction with that place. Media, the bible and a narrow insight view via the internet. I didn’t know what to expect. Again, I was wrong and Jerusalem is a vibrant living city, filled with colour, filled with life. Modern. Ancient. New. Traditional. It’s almost impossible that something so very old could be so very young. One of my favorite memories was seeing 2 school boys running through the stone streets, one was around 6 and the other maybe 10, the older was holding the younger boys hand as their backpacks crashing up and down, payot flying in the air and their shoes slapping the generations old paving stones. I thought to myself, ‘this could be any year’ and then corrected myself as I remembered that I was mistaken. This ‘real land’ and these streets, where I see a new age of Jewish people running to their books was for so long NOT the domain of the descendants of Jacob. It was a bitter sweet moment but one that I think about almost every day. My hope is that those shoes will never stop running to those books along those streets.
The morning came that Lyn and I walked down from the Hotel to the Kotel the sun was shinning. It wasn’t too hot or wet. We had packed smart knowing that there was security to pass. When we got to the gate check we were made aware that there had been a terror attack, a stabbing, only a few hours before and ‘We should be careful’. After so many days in the land of Israel it was a cold, sharp shock that people were being slaughtered in the streets by kids with knives and cowards in cars. The city seemed so safe. The IDF placed an extra 1000 soldiers on the streets of the capital and so the terrorists took their cars and children to the suburbs. I don’t think I have felt as safe as a visitor to any country including my own as I did in Israel.
You may not know but the western wall has 2 divisions. One to divide men and women and a wider one, set away from the wall to divide the religious and the passer by and tourist. Lyn and I took some photos and then made a plan of where to meet after we were done then we set off, each to our own side. I picked a space and launched myself at it.
As I got to within 8 meters my stomach started to knot. 5 meters and there was a lump in my throat, 3 and I felt tears on my cheeks. Finally, standing so close that I could hear my faltering breath as it bounced off the stone I just couldn’t hold it anymore and quietly sobbed. I didn’t know why. Common sense told me this was a stone wall, as old as many I’d seen but this was about so much more. I was standing there, against the wall that the Temple once stood on. Thousands of years of peoples devotion, love, fear, hope, pleading and gratefulness pointed to the place that Solomon directed us to pray in. There I was, a non-Jew, standing on a spot that I was sharing with millions of souls all looking to connect with the King of the Universe. My mind recalled those boys, boys who maybe 200 years ago would not be running in those streets and who maybe 70 years ago might have seen a very different future. I felt unworthy. I felt unclean. How was it that I was here, I didn’t deserve it.
I hadn’t made a prayer plan. I had some personal prayers that people who couldn’t make the trip wanted me to give but as for my own wants and needs I simply couldn’t think of anything. All I could lend my foggy mind to was how lucky I was to be there. To be alive. To have access. In this real land of Israel, among these real people. At this real wall that housed the real Temple of the only Real God of the world. I opened my eyes and saw the many many folded pieces of paper. Each one the out pouring of someones greatest need. ‘Surely there is something I should ask for?’, I ran my fingers over the stones slowly, imagining how many had done so before me and quietly said the Shema under my breath. Then I left. ‘Lyn won’t believe I got all soppy’, I thought.. and there she was all red eyed and flushed. It looks like this stone, this place, still has the power to open a human heart, warm and kind or cold and stony.
Now, as I sit at my desk, so many miles and days away from that experience I still feel the tug of emotion as I render in my mind those events and now, when I read my Tanakh I don’t see the prophets in a world that existed 3000 years ago, it was this world. The stones still stand, the hills still speak, the same sun shines of the same soil and the same rain feeds the same crop. Israel is a real place and a real people. It is a living and breathing thing, it has a life and I feel so privileged to be a section of even the smallest part of it.