It starts with a song. A rush. People moving about quickly. On a bike. Child in hand. Carrying groceries. Sweeping shops. Everyone is getting ready for Shabbat. The car pulls into the driveway as the kids hurry to put on their shoes. He fixes his tie one last time in the mirror and puts on his jacket. She puts the finishing touches on her makeup. The song builds. Thousands walk the old streets. You can hear the many footsteps thunder on the ancient stones. Old friends great each other as everyone heads briskly down the winding alleyways. A gust of wind whisks on by and the fresh mountain air is gleefully inhaled. The ancient city is alive with elders and children alike. With every step forward the anticipation builds.
The song slows for just a moment as the wall comes into focus. The birds chirp as the sun sinks steadily down. The music fades soft and slows as the haste magically transforms, and movements become deliberate and savored. A focused joy and a happy concentration permeate the crowd as they walk down the last few steps. The song climbs steadily as an intense beat builds. The sky, a majestic black, several stars shinning bright overhead; the moon, formulated as a wry smile. Finally, the song reaches its peak as the Wall, shimmering gold, stands in front of all, as they make their final advances forward. Some jump and sing enthusiastically, some make haste towards a specific group, and still others look on with intrigue. The man goes to take a siddur. The woman guides her child. The song roars; reverberating loudly. Onlookers and passerby enthusiastically smile and clap. Jews from all walks of life gather together at the Kotel.
Yeshiva bachurs, dressed in handsome suits, Chassidim, illustriously donning their regal dressing gowns, Soldiers, proudly wearing their firmly pressed uniforms; everyone is in their Shabbat best. It’s Friday night in the holy city and it is now time to welcome in the Shabbat. Men, with long beards, knickers, and strimmels, sing and dance together with those dressed a bit more causally, men in tattered jeans and designer T-shirts, cloaked in white Heritage Foundation “Kotel Kippahs.” The difference is staunch, but it doesn’t seem to matter. They move together, arm in arm, with large smiles, praising God the same ways Jews have been doing for several millennia. One minyan davens quietly and swiftly, as they look towards their long awaited Friday night meal. Others pray adagio, singing beautiful and illustrious tunes of R’ Shlomo Carlebach. Still others jump fervently up and down as they form human trains and weave through the crowds. Friday night at the Kotel no two minyannim are alike and yet, Friday night at the Kotel, it seems as though no two Jews are different. Each minyan sings a different tune; and yet there is but one collective song. Not a cacophony, but a symphony.
Smiles are shared, warm glances exchanged. Political enemies wish each other a “Shabbat shalom”, religious adversaries pray together. All the hot and controversial topics regarding the Socio-political make up of Israel are forgotten. All arguments of what constitutes a Jew, who is a true believer, and what level of observance should be regulation throughout the country, are for a while laid to rest.
The magical aura of the ancient city awake once again donning its majestic glory cannot be fully articulated, only felt. Friday night at the Kotel is fantastical; awesome; alluring. The antique metropolis that once lay desolate, now rejuvenated. The city glitters as the sparks fly and begin to catch fire.
What is the secret that makes it all so extraordinary?
The Kotel is but the sole remaining hint to what once was. The reason people flock in the hundreds of thousands every day from the farthest corners of the world to come visit the “Western Wall” is because it serves as a reminder of a time we’d all like to get back to. A time of peace. A time of prosperity. A time of God consciousness and tranquility. A time of meaning and a time of purpose. In these modern times, when we seemingly have everything we could possibly ever desire at our finger tips, we lack some of the most basic and yet, fundamental things. We find ourselves replacing meaning with material items and pursuits. We find ourselves turning a blind eye to the glaring human rights violations and oppression that occur on a daily basis. We falsely simulate tranquility and joy in our heads. We distract ourselves from our own obvious shortcomings. And this is why Friday night at the Kotel is so magnificent.
Friday night at the Kotel is but a small taste, an appetizer, a pallet wetter so to speak, of what it could all be. What it is supposed to be. After painful years of exile, finally returning from an overdrawn diasporal/exiled existence, we are finally home. Now is not the time to focus on what makes us different. Now is the time to band together. To love thy fellow. Now is not a time for other. Now is a time for one. Now it is Friday night; let us welcome in the long awaited Shabbat that is the geulah, together. Let us dance, together, hand in hand; let us step forward, together, with determination and hope. Let us not learn to live with or accept each other despite our differences, let us learn to love each other because of our differences, for such is the only way salvation will arrive.
Every night must be Friday night at the Kotel; for Friday night at the Kotel is the truest testament to who the Jewish people are. The Kotel does not belong to one specific group, one specific gender, to a specific movement, not even to a specific religious ideology, rather the Kotel belongs to every Jew no matter how or to what extent he identifies himself as a Jew; for we are all, People of the Wall. This, is our story. This, is our people. This, is Am Yisrael. One nation. One heart. One people; People of the Wall.