Like millions of our fellow Israelis, last night my family watched the Yom Hazikaron ceremony held at the Kotel. So short, so familiar, so predictable, yet always moving.
In what is perhaps the only hour of the year, the prayer plaza adjacent to the Kotel was completely empty. Not a soul. It was at the upper plaza that together we shared the national grief of the Jewish People, the loss of twenty two thousand lives, the steep price of our independence.
In the heated argument over the character of the Kotel, there is one man who gets it right – Natan Sharansky. As he so aptly put it, for some the Kotel is a holy place of prayer, for others it’s a national monument.
While in Judaism, the focal point of prayer is the Temple Mount, the Oral tradition sanctified the Kotel as the eternal place of the Shekhina – the Divine Presence. Laden with almost 2,000 years of Jewish prayer and tears, the Kotel is where many of us come to escape the deafening routine and feel a special connection to God. To pray for the people in our lives, to unload our pain, or to thank God for His gifts.
Yet the Kotel is not just a synagogue. It is a symbol of Jewish nationhood. It links us to what used to be and a gives us hope for what can be. The Kotel connects us to our history and inspires us to carry on a collective Jewish heritage, even as we interpret this heritage differently.
The Kotel may mean different things to different people. Still, no matter how we feel connected to the Kotel, whether through prayer or through history, it is sacrosanct to all of us. In our national consciousness as in our private lives, certain things are meant to stay above conflict. Certain things are not meant to be used or touched. And only then can they stay precious.
As long as we can preserve the feeling of awe and connection, the Kotel will continue to unite us in our differences. Yet if we let it become a tool in our conflicts, we stand to lose it. And together with the Kotel, we stand to lose each other.
The responsibility for preserving the Kotel’s connective power lies with all of us.
The question is how important that is to us.