It always seemed a bit cliché to me when people spoke or write on specific ‘events’ that change how they viewed themselves and their world. At the surface, I often discard these comments because of how it focuses on just one event changing their lives for typically better, but something worse. Events are not alone, but are part of a system of chances and choices made by ourselves or others.
These choices come together and form what we perceive as a singular event. Despite this rather cold and analytical belief, I always secretly envied people who had these interventions in their everyday lives. The last major ‘event’ for me occurred a number of years ago when I was robbed of two people who I loved and adored: my grandparents. Since losing them, I have felt like a wanderer. My search was for one of these ‘events’ that would return me to who I truly was and significantly alter my life for the better.
Recently, I traveled to Israel to participate in a small group program to meet with different people involved in the complexities of the region. This contained meeting with Israeli, Palestinian officials, academics, journalists, researchers and so on. Unlike Birthright or other planned trips to Israel, this one really made an attempt to educate the region’s complexities. Re-reading the schedule, the trip seemed ideal for the researcher found within me. However, something happened beyond my expectation. I had an ‘event’ moment.
During one of the early days of the trip, the group performed the traditional tourist activity of visiting to the Old City of Jerusalem. One of these stops was the Western Wall, a holy location for Jews as it is the closest geographical point to the First and Second Temple. The Wall, along with others, holds up the massive and beautiful Temple Mount. This extremely important religious and spiritual site for Muslims as it contains the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. I began reading the prayers of the holy Shema while a friend stood by my side. While reading the prayers, I felt something that I had been looking for over the last few years.
It began while reciting Deuteronomy 6:4–9, I felt a long lost presence. Three times, I looked back to see what it was. The gorgeous bricks of the Wall stood in-front of me. After the final time, I just decided to focus and stare at the Wall. However, I began to feel the hands of my grandparents on my right shoulder. Through their touch I felt so much pain, stress, questions and anger escape my body. I finished the prayer and sensed that something had shifted within me. My friend finished his prayers and we began walking out of the complex. Right as we were leaving, I saw a very important Jewish ritual being offered a meter or two away. It was the putting on of the tefillin.
Something within me called to put on the religious garment. It is important to mention that the last time I put tefillin on was before my grandparents’ deaths. I told my friend for us to quickly do it before we left. While it was being wrapped on me, I felt the leather straps and the holiness seemingly pouring onto me and began to smile. I could not help but laugh as every part of me knew that I was having one of the ‘events’. My smile continued and grew as everyone around discovered that the friend had never put on tefillin before. As he was putting it on and reciting the prayers, I re-read the Shema. When both of us finished, we sang in joy of the friend’s accomplishment.
The ‘event’ was not finished. It continued the following night. A handful of us walked through Jerusalem to the Old City. We stopped at a small square with a spectacular aerial view of the Temple Mount before heading to the Wall. I looked out onto the beauty of the Wall and the Temple Mount. The Dome of the Rock was lit perfectly to paint the night sky with its gold. Its color was strengthened by the green lights from the adjacent tower. The Al-Aqsa mosque contained a beautiful dominance on the other side of the complex. Most important for me was the Wall being lit in beautiful white. Perhaps a few dozen religious Jews were praying in the late hours of the night.
The ‘event’ from the previous day took me by the hand and seemingly ended my years of wandering. I felt no longer as a wanderer. A massive feeling of peace and excitement took over my body. All of us then walked down to the Wall and I cited mourners Kaddish for my grandparents. Unlike over the last few years, the prayers were done with joyous love instead of sadness and depression. After I finished citing the prayers, we walked back to the Jaffa Gate to hire a taxi to take us back to our hotel. The drive was extremely unusual as the driver played pop music loud enough for the whole nation to hear.
Throughout the drive, I thought of my ‘event’. My body, soul and mind saturated with such peace, happiness and the feeling of relief. The years of wandering around the world in order to find peace had finished. Peace was within me and everything had changed. I had my moment that fundamentally redefined me, which I had always wanted. A week later, I discussed how I had changed to my aunt, who I was staying with after the group trip, during coffee in Tel Aviv. I will never forget her smile as she knew that a new Jonathan was in front of her.