Chronicles from Home         

Part  14

October 14, 2005







The Kotel -- 4:00 in the morning

It is cold today.  I don't remember having being so cold before.  I instinctively raise my hand to my neck.  Did I forget my scarf?  No, everything is the way it should be.  And then...  I can't focus on my prayers.  My stomach almost hurts from the biting wind.  I clench my teeth and try to raise my collar.  I don't think I can finish.  I have to go back home. 

Just then one of my friends, an older lady that I met 6 months ago and see since everyday (or was it 2000 years ago?), comes to me.  She touches my shoulder to get my attention.  We are so bundled up that we can't hear each other easily. 

"You need to come inside with us.  It's too cold today."

I’m ready to grab my purse to follow her.  She's right; it doesn't make any sense.  What am I trying to prove by staying outside on such a frigid night?

I sit down again as the answer comes to me.  Today, especially today, I will pray outside.  I will stay in the cold with my three layers of clothing, with my nice gloves and with my wool hat.  Today I will not complain.  Today I will endure the cold as an act of solidarity with those who did not have a choice, who did not have a hat, who did not have warm clothes, for those who were starving and bleeding at places of hell where no hope could be found.  This is my way of avenging them.  This is my way of connecting with them.

I feel the cold burning my cheeks.  There is something inside of me that is still warm.  Relieved, I let my tears running down freely.

Today is Yom HaShoah in the City of Gold. 





The Kotel -- 4:10 in the morning

I feel a little worried today.  There are no soldiers to be seen at the entrance to the Kotel.  I am rushing through the gate.  Inside, I know I will be safe.  This is not a rational statement I know, but that is how I feel. 

It is really dark.  Where can they be? 

Just then, when I pass the little glass shelter where they usually sit, I see him.  He is asleep!  His arms are on his knees and his head must be somewhere there, between the machine gun, the radio unit and his beret.  I can't believe it. 

He reminds me of Yehuda, my son, sleeping like this with so much abandon.  I don't even slow down on my way.  I have to hurry.  I pass the gate and… stop.  I just can't let him sleep like that. 

I am afraid to be in the dark alone, but what about him?  What if somebody would come to take his weapon from him?  I should go back.  I don't know what to do. 

Suddenly a scary thought come to me, is he really asleep?  I look around, hoping to find somebody.  No, not somebody, some Jews.  I hope in fact that I won't find anybody except Jews. 

The only noise I can hear is my labored breathing, sending fog in the air.  I approach the shelter slowly.  I want to check on that soldier, but on the other hand I have to be careful not to scare him off.  I am close enough to hear him breathing.  Good.  Now what?  I cough.  Just once.  His eyes are on me, immediately.  His weapon gripped in his hands.  I think I am going to faint.  Speak.  Quickly.  Before he thinks I am a terrorist.

"I am so sorry.  I saw you asleep, I got scared for you".

A smile spread on his face, so tired, so wise.  This young man looks so old suddenly.

"Thank you.  Don't worry, I was not asleep, just resting".

Right, if he was just resting, then I am Golda Meir.  He looks apologizing and shy.  I turn around.  He is fine and that is all that matters as far as I am concern.  I heard his voice again.

"Thank you, really.  Are you coming every night at the Kotel?"

"I try."

"You give me Koach (strength)."

Me?  I can't avoid laughing.  "Don't get thinks mixed-up.  You give all of us Koach."

"So then, it seems that we are all soldiers here.  Just serving in different units".

I leave him, thinking about what he just said.  Yes, we are all soldiers, soldiers of HaShem.  I feel proud and moved when I walk on the Plaza of the Kotel.  I have to slow down to let two generals with long beards and black coats pass by.  They, too, are fully alert as they ready to take their duties.





The Kotel -- 3:50 in the morning

As always, I have to stop to admire the view.  I park my car, open the door and stay for few seconds immobile, looking at Yerushalayim.  She is so beautiful, like a jewel, in HaShem's Hand.  One more time, I decide that I will take a camera with me and take pictures every 30 seconds, as the light changes, and the wind, and the skies and …Then I realize that all those pretty lights are coming from East Jerusalem and that I am facing directly the window of an Arab house.  Time to move on, I have some davening to do.

I should not stay like this at night alone looking at the City.  Alone?  I don't think so.

I reach the Kotel.  There are few women already, the usual ones.  We say hello, with our words or our eyes.  Some of those ladies don't say a secular word in the presence of the King of kings.  I learned how to recognize them, who to greet and to whom to smile, who to press the shoulders to say that I am here and who to press a hand to comfort.  This is my family.  This is where I belong.  This is where I am me, with no masks and no games. 

I am in the middle of my prayers, standing up.  Right then, I feel a little bit of Gan Eden coming to me.  A nice fragrance, overwhelming.  I have to stop few seconds not to loose my concentration.  I smile.  This is a gift from one of my friends.  Every Friday morning, she is bringing some Bessamim (spices) for me.  She does not want to disturb me if I am praying, so she leaves them in my bag and just goes, spreading her blanket of brachot all over the world.

She does not make it easy for me.  I have to look all over for her before leaving in order to thank her.  This is not Tzedaka, this is beyond.

When it is time for Havdalah, I use her Bessamim.  My children know all about her.  I told them about my older friend from the Kotel.  They think she is Elyahu Hanavi in disguise on one of his many secret missions. 

I think they are right.




The Kotel -- 3:30 in the morning

There are a lot of people here today.  The month of Elul started.  So many people at this hour.  I can't believe it.  I forget how sleepy I am.  It must look weird, but I can't stop smiling.  The sound of the Shofarim is so loud.  For once, we can't ever hear the muezzin.  Who is complaining? 

A young girl asks me something, but I can barely hear her.  She bends over and repeats her question directly in my ear.  She wants to know where we are.  The first answer in my mind is…  Matan Torah.  That's it!  The sound of the Shofar, the excitement, everything.  I close my eyes and I am there, standing, petrified at the foot of Har Sinai.  Meanwhile, she is still awaiting an answer.  So I show her where we are in the Selichot.

It is time to return home.  As always I have to stand a few minutes looking at the City before heading to my car.  Once at home, I will need to prepare breakfast, wake up the children and be fully alert.  But I need those few minutes of transition between my two worlds.  I look at the City. 

There is a beautiful light, white and soft, a milky light that strikes me.  I realize that is why Israel is called the Land of Milk and Honey.  The milk is the color of the blanket that covers Yerushalayim, just before daytime, when it is the coldest and the honey is the color of the glove She slips into, to prepare Herself for the day.  The Zahav, the Gold.  In few seconds, I am witnessing Her transformation.  I don't want to leave.  But I have to.

This morning I bring back a gift from the Kotel to my family.  I serve them at the table a little bit of Yerushalayim, with milk in their cups and honey on their bread.  





The Kotel -- 5:10 in the morning

We are all davening, standing up facing the wall.  The faces are strained, people are crying.  The place is so crowded.  I can't even move my arms.  Rosh Hashanah is approaching.  I am so moved.  I finally realized the importance of praying with others. 

The woman on my right is not young.  She is all bent on her cane.  But she is the one who energizes me.  I always try to stay next to her.  In case I feel a yawn coming to my lips, I look at this woman.  Her concentration and Kavanah are almost palpable.  She thanks me when I help her sometimes to stand or see that she finds a seat behind her before collapsing without letting go of her cane.  I feel like an impostor and can't help blushing.  I try to thank her.  She has this way of smiling at me, pretending not to understand what I mean but at the same time, she seems to know all the secrets of the world.  I feel I am 10 years old all over again.  She corrects my pronunciation, smiling indulgently saying, “I know, I know, it is difficult for French people to pronounce this letter.”  I don't feel upset or embarrassed, that is what surprising me the most.

We are progressing on our path of prayers when we hear a strange woman's voice.  She seems to be right behind us.  She is mumbling something in a loud, sad monotone voice.  Everybody tries to ignore her.  It is becoming increasingly difficult.  I can see her now.  She is moving around us.  She does not seem to be in possession of all her faculties.  She is young so.  I feel sorry for her.  Her voice is scratching on my nerves.  Some women start to let her know that she is disturbing us.  She is moving her head from side to side.  I am loosing my focus.  I can’t do it.  I look at her.  She is one lost prophet, a lonely and crazy one.  I am so scared.  I turn back to my siddur.  Please HaShem send us The Redemption now, before Your People become all lonely prophets in the midst of a lost nation.

When it is time to leave, I am very careful not to catch her eyes.  I don't even know where she went.  Suddenly, she is right in front of me, starring at me with empty eyes.   She is younger than I thought, maybe only 20 years old.

"G-d does not listen to us anymore, He is tired of us."

I try to pass her but she grabs my arm.

"Why does He not want to listen to us?"

I don't know.   I just want to go.  Why me when there are several hundred other women here today?

She continues to stare at me.  Why, why?

This is a test; she cannot be real.  I close my eyes and whisper:  "He is listening to us, always and He is watching us.  Have a Shana Tova Umetuka."

To my relief, I feel her grasp on my arm loosening.  My eyes are still closed, but I hear her voice: "Now, now He is going to listen to us."

I open my eyes and see her smile, a strange smile.  I hurry to leave her.  I know it is going to take days for me to forget the chilly sensation this woman left on me.

I see my car with a sigh of relief.  My hand is on the door handle when two yeshiva baruchim materialize on my side.  They want to know if I am going to Geula.  I don't like their pushiness.   Still shaking from my last encounter, I just want to tell them: no, and even if I was, I would not give you a ride because if you had seen me -- a woman -- on the streets in Geula, you would not have even have given me the time of day, but now that I have a car you want a ride with me?  What a nerve!  My lips stay closed, but my thoughts are in turmoil.  Right then, it seems, I hear that woman's voice again.  A red signal light starts flashing in my head.  Be careful.  Choose your words carefully.   This is a time of danger.  This is another test.  Surprisingly I hear myself saying:

"No, I am not, I am sorry.  Shana Tova to you."

The young men thank me and return my wishes for a good year.  I think this is over, but half way inside the car, I hear one of them telling me: "Remember: what is important is not for HaShem to listen to us, but for us to listen to Him."

They leave.  And I am sitting behind the wheel convinced that I am hallucinating.  Maybe the lack of sleep.  But what a beautiful message to carry with me.

The face of the young woman popped up in my mind as I am driving home.  She is maybe not a lost prophet after all and I hope she is not the last one either.





The Kotel -- 5:30 in the morning

I want to get up from my chair, but I feel a pain in my leg.  I banged on something sharp and hard.  I look down and see, with amazement, a machine gun.  I look at my immediate neighbor.  She is a soldier in uniform with a siddur.  She apologizes and tries to put her weapon somewhere else.  It is not easy because the Kotel is very crowded today.  She puts it back over her shoulder and we continue davening. 

Few minutes later, I hear her sobbing.  I am close to doing the same and am debating if I should talk to her.  I feel embarrassed by my Hebrew.  There are so many things I want to say, but it is still very frustrating for me.  Before I can think more about her, the lady on the other side of her puts a nice arm around the soldier's shoulder.  I sigh.  That is the best word, always, ever.  I hear the lady telling her that is going to be fine, that soon there will be peace, that she is going to get married, carrying children instead of a rifle.  The soldier calms down a little bit and then says the most moving and amazing thing I have ever heard.

"I am not afraid for me being a soldier and getting killed.  I just pray that I won't have to kill somebody one day."

She bursts into tears and all of us with her who stood close enough to have heard her.

I look at her, in awe.  I can't believe that I just met Rachel Imenu in Tzahal uniform.

Who is like You, Master of the World and who is like Your People Israel?  


—May We Always Remember Who We Are…

 And Behave Accordingly—


Sara Brownstein


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