Late on our first Thursday night in Israel, the sky was dark but the Kotel was brightly lit and surrounded by Jews. With my friends, we made our way down to the women’s section of the Kotel. I stepped up to the holy wall, and placed a hand lightly on the cold stone. At that moment, I realized that the entire Jewish population is connected and we give each other strength. We all come from different backgrounds but we are all united by our beliefs, our history, and our home: Israel.
The Kotel is much more than the only remaining wall of the temple; it is the holiest place on earth for Jews. The scene can not be compared to any other; the joy and sadness can not be described with the words in the English vocabulary. Hope-filled notes poured out of the cracks of the sacred western wall and crouching women prayed silently, tears streaming down their faces. Standing a few feet away from the wall with my fellow classmates, I was starting to wonder if I should come closer. I felt God’s presence at the wall, and each step I took brought me closer and closer to God. This new feeling scared me; nevertheless, I pushed myself towards the holiest place on earth. I clutched my note, folded it twice, and made sure that I had remembered to include wishes for my entire family. Carefully, I placed my note into a crack that resembled a broken star. Studying the wall carefully, I noticed scratches that came together to take on the image of a chickadee on a perch. I ran my hand cautiously along the indents. The uneven, cold stones felt smooth against my palm. Quietly, along with all the praying women, I began to cry. For some reason, being close to God in a way that I had never been before was too much for me to handle. I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and began to pray.
At that moment, the amount of anxiety and delight of this new experience prevented me from understanding the connection I had found to my history and my home. Looking back, I can see that the Jews have made it, against all odds. Many others have tried to destroy our religion and erase our beliefs but we have always chosen to rise above them. Twice Israel’s largest temples have been demolished and yet we still have the Kotel and may freely pray there. In Russia, my family was denied freedom of religion and were kept from studying Jewish history. They were persecuted and robbed; nonetheless, they combined their strength and survived multiple pogroms. Prior to my visit to the Kotel, I was sure that there would always be certain obstacles that I could not tackle, situations I could not change. Now I know that Judaism gives one power to prevail.
After long thought, I made sense of all that I have learned on my Israel trip: trust in God and knowledge of history lead individuals onward. Not only did I discover my relationship to Jewish peoplehood, I also discovered the link that I created between my family’s history in Russia and the new generation. Similar to the Kotel’s role in Judaism, I am the only piece of the puzzle that is left. Daily, I must feed information from the Torah to those family members who never had the opportunity to learn. Not unlike Elie Wiesel’s responsibility to share the knowledge of the Holocaust, I must be the messenger maintaining belief and hope.
By Sasha, 8th Grader