DL Israel #18: The Kotel: One Shabbat Later

When I was first given the task to blog about the Kotel I thought to myself “Rabbi Motti, I’m in trouble here!” In no way, shape or form do I have the ability to collect and explain all the emotions surrounding the most symbolically holy place for the Jewish people: the Wailing Wall. My second thought was that thankfully I’m voluntarily employed by a rabbi instead of a news editor for this

daunting task and worst case he will leave me behind in the Jewish homeland. All for the better!

Anyways, back to the experience, the “Kotel” experience started with a bus ride to downtown Jerusalem before Shabbat. On the way to the Kotel, our Mayanot 103 Bus was filled with my fellow Taglit- Birthright Israel participants chanting “Oseh Shalom” and “Am Israel Chai.” For me at least, this set off the night. A night filled with complete joy and energy. We reached downtown Jerusalem and walked through the ancient streets to reach a destination where we as participants of Mayanot oversaw the Kotel for the first time.

Though I personally have seen the Kotel before, there is no doubt in saying that it is overwhelming each and every time. After listening to a short lecture about what we have in front of our eyes, we were graced by a Shabbat Guitarist (pre- sun down, of course). Our whole group came into song and cheer once again, making me more and more anxious to walk down the steps to where my Jewish people’s Temple once stood.

But, there was one more stop: Rabbi Menachem Traxler greeted us at the Colel Chabad soup kitchen that feeds 3,000 hungry people. The desire to serve and give to such a significant cause is something that makes the Jewish religion so beautiful even beyond the religion. The women in our group lit Shabbat candles at the soup kitchen to usher in Shabbat.

Finally, the descent was to be made. Arriving at the Kotel “ground floor” the adrenaline really started to push through the veins bringing me to levels of excitement that can be paralleled to NBA player’s making game-winning shots in the fourth quarter, or physicians operating during an intensive surgery in a crunch for time. This said, it was time to bring in the Shabbat.

Thankfully, in comparison to my typical Shabbat services in my state of Sweet Home Alabama, this time I was able to expend my excitement and energy. Instead of simple sitting and standing, I came upon the most beautiful mess I have ever experienced: Friday night at the Kotel. From dancing and singing to crowd-surfing rabbis, the experience of standing at the Kotel and being able to simply be Jewish with my brothers and sisters is something that made me feel truly blessed. Even after only meeting everyone for five days, it is beautiful how our faith can bind us so closely together.

Even with the tough times here in Israel, there is so much that we as Jews and Israelis need to be proud of. The fact that we can make the journey to Jerusalem and experience Shabbat at the Kotel after such difficult journeys in our ancestry is simply remarkable.

Once the service was over I saw groups of Israeli soldiers, many of whom hiked 25 kilometers just to partake in services, gathering and greeting people with the utmost passion for their day to day life. It is remarkable how these soldiers (some as young as just 18 years old) are so committed to our Jewish State and so in love with the one place in the world they can truly call home. But really, how unique is that? Where else in the world can you find 18 year old kids make such meaningful commitment? Welcome to Israel! In the big scheme of things, one week later, all I can do is miss and reminisce!

-Gilad Shapira

About the Author
The Dateline Israel blog is written by participants in "Newsroom to Newsroom," a trip sponsored by Taglit-Birthright Israel: MAYANOT and geared for practitioners and students of journalism. They'll be blogging it like they see it throughout their tour, which lasts until January 10.