The Wall of Tears and Happiness

by Jonathan Segal

The year 70 BCE, the most valuable place to the Jewish people was destroyed. The second temple and everything that came along with it was demolished, leaving the Jewish people without a religious center in the world. Although the temple was destroyed, the west wall of the complex remained standing and to this day this wall is remembered as the greatest physical evidence of prosperous Jewish life before the Common Era. Today, the Western Wall stands for many things and for many people. To some people the wall stands for history, loss, or victory while to others the wall stands for the Jewish religion, personal comfort, or even safety. Whatever it stands for, I believe that this wall is the most important physical wall in the world.

My first visit to the Western Wall was one of confusion. I was young and couldn’t quite understand why so many people had come so far to see a few boulders in the shape of a vertical wall. I did notice, however, that this odd pile of rocks seemed to have a special meaning for a large percentage of the people who got the privilege to witness its significance. Unfortunately, the rest of my first experience at this holy sight consisted of being scolded by elderly Chasidic Jews for wearing shorts and dressing immodestly in front of the wall.

After choosing to go to Israel for a semester of school, I knew that I would have many opportunities to visit this famous wall. At this point in my life, I was 17 and for some reason the significance of the wall seemed a lot more evident to me at this time than it had five years earlier. To me, visiting the wall for a second time provided me with an opportunity to share a connection with fellow Jews around the world. It also served as an outlet for many events that had built up to my journey to Israel. My friend Tucker and I approached the wall together, covering our heads with a yarmulke and with a prayer book in our hands. We pushed our way through the black coats and long beards and made our way to the base of the wall.

Standing in front of the wall with one of my best friends after having gone through so much the past year with him, we were both in awe at the effect the Western Wall had on us. We joined together in a prayer for people we know who have passed away, in which we both thought of our friend Mitch, and then slowly backed away from the wall, trying not to turn our backs. To us this wall had been a personal outlet for our feelings and a promise that the rest of our stay in Israel was going to be a fantastic experience.

The Western Wall is vital for many reasons besides personal connections. It is a peace of history and last standing proof of an ancient civilization. It is also a physical wall that separates the Temple Mount from the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. This helps with things as basic as security. However, security is not the main thing on peoples mind when they face this Wailing Wall. It is the history, the tradition, the thoughts, the prayers, and the notes that overflow the cracks.

Jonathan Segal is a NFTY EIE High School in Israel alum. This piece was written for an 11th grade English assignment following his return from Israel.

Originally posted at Youth and College Israel Programs: The Blog

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5 Responses to “The Wall of Tears and Happiness”

  1. avatar

    I am so happy to hear that reform jews now realize the importance of daveining at the kotel…. As long as you respect halachic law and men are separated from women just like in the first and second temple. I just returned from my first trip to Israel and I was moved….. I also went to masada were observant jews gave their lives to maintain laws an traditions… I grew up secular and reform and now only study at chabad…. they accept all jews and do not speak negatively about any jew…. The Rebbe s mission is to bring everyone back in order to bring mosiach…then there will be peace for all here on earth….He quotes the Rambam who claims all righteous gentiles have an equal place to jews in the world to come… I would suggest that all jews study the writings of Ba aL ShemTov founder of the hassidic movement..What impressed me the most is he holds that the average man who cleans the bathrrom is equal to the Torah scholar in G-ds eyes…I did not know anything about chassidus ,, james ainoris

  2. avatar

    I am a Reform Jew who fiercely abstains from praying at the Kotel, which I have come to view as part tourist trap, part Haredi synagogue, and above all a reminder of why the tradition teaches us the rest of the building was destroyed — sinat chinam, baseless hatred. Today the Wall symbolizes in particular baseless hatred against half of the Jewish people, the female half.

    Jonathan describes his differing reactions to the Kotel, visiting it at different stages of his life. In my view, the first-time visitor to Jerusalem should see the Wall as an historic artifact. On subsequent visits to Jerusalem, visiting is a healthy reminder to Reform Jews that we value knowing from where we came, but do not pray for the restoration of the building that was, only for a time when all peoples, regardless of gender, can come with clean hands and pure hearts, swords having been beaten into plowshares.

    And a visit to the Kotel should be marked, not by writing a note and sticking it between the bricks, but by writing a check to ARZA, to support the work of the Israel Religious Action Center.

    • avatar
      Jordan Friedman Reply May 21, 2012 at 3:15 pm

      Amen to that, Misnogid! However, my check would go to J-Street rather than ARZA…

      • Larry Kaufman

        Nothing wrong with supporting J-Street, Jordan, but its cause is peace, not pluralism. When peace comes with the “Palestinians,” Israel will no longer be able to avoid its pressing internal problem of religious discrimination Jew against Jew. In the fight for religious pluralism, IRAC, funded in great measure by ARZA, is at the forefront; allies in the battle are New Israel Fund and Hiddush.

  3. avatar

    I cannot believe how bitter the woman commentator is… sadly she has the wrong impression about frum women. I study and live with a frum family in boro park and have seen women disrepsected… or put down… they enjoy living a TORAH life and being mothers of many children..all who are cared for and loved… they enjoy being women and wearing dresses etc. The divorce rate is very low less that 10%… and women get full secular education unlike men… maybe she is upset since women pray separate from men… this is what HaShem wanted and both bais hamikdash (temples) had the women above the men….so we could focus on davining and not flirt etc…. please dont be so bitter against hareidi frum jews…they are trying so hard to maintain G-ds laws not mans secular humanist veiw points which continually change… by the way…parts of solomons temple are beneath temple mount…its the location not the stone…. Shalom james ainoris

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