September 12, 2013Today is a unique day in Jerusalem, especially around the Western Wall. It’s a Thursday, and, as Andre our guide explains to us, on Monday’s and Thursday’s bar mitzvahs are celebrated. As we walk to the wall we witness parade after parade heading in the same direction. Families and friends stroll with a slight skip in their step, almost dancing, under four-poster tents called chuppahs, while hired musicians walk backwards in front of them joyously paving each step of their way. When we arrive at the massive, towering wall on the western side of the former temple mount I see teems of people, men gathered on the left two-thirds of a divider and women on the right third. I quickly notice something quite odd: women standing on white plastic chairs with cameras snapping away at a scene over the wooden barrier dividing the men and women. Others throw—launch—rather, showers of colorful petals over the 8 foot divider while little girls peek between the slats. This is how they make do with the gender division… I realize what’s happening, there’s a bar mitzvah happening on the other side! I walk closer to the scene and hold my camera up over my head and start shooting away hoping to get some sense of what’s taking place. From my monitor I see a group of men surrounding a 13-year-old reading the Torah, reciting words spoken for generations as the powerful rite of passage ritualizing the transition of this boy’s life into the beginning of manhood is conducted. It’s a joyous yet also strange scene to observe. I decide it’s time to have my own, personal, western wall experience. So, I turn over my right shoulder and head toward the wall. I wade through the sea of prayers, past the girls in the light blue uniforms and the older women from far and near, some sitting, some standing, and many rocking. I stand behind the one in the blue rosebud hat and the young girl with a dried flower behind her ear. Together our prayers melt into the wall. Together our hearts cry to our God.
I fold my paper and tuck it under a dozen others wedged between the rough rocks. The ancient stones hold our prayers—God holds them—our rock and our refuge.