In God's Hands
One thing that has been hard for me in the last few weeks, regarding my thoughts and emotions about the disengagement, has been my feeling of powerlessness. Rarely have I been so keenly aware of how few people see the world the way I do, and how relatively few, feeble means are available to me to effect change in the world.
My trip to the Kotel this morning was, in retrospect, an act of surrender to the powerlessness. In many ways that is what prayer always is, anywhere in the world, an acknowledgement that a Higher Power influences or controls the forces around us . . . but I'm not so good about praying on a regular basis, and find that my concentration and motivation is much stronger at the Western Wall than it ever is at home.
Since moving to Israel I have befriended an incredibly warm, spiritual, intelligent, and inspiring woman named Sara Brownstein, who will probably kill me for publicly lauding her. She and her husband Rich made aliyah around the same time I did, from Los Angeles. I came to know them because I wrote an article for an Israeli paper about Rich's comprehensive (and slightly insane) collection of Portland Trailblazer's memorabilia. After a while they started inviting me for Shabbat meals. (Please note that I became friendly with them after I wrote the article, did not know when writing it that they would invite me, and would be hard pressed to write about them now that we are friends, except under certain extremely specific circumstances.)
Sara Brownstein leaves her house every morning by 4:10 am, Sunday through Friday, to pray at the Kotel, summer, fall, winter, and spring. This morning, what I hope will be the first of many miracles occured, and I got up on time to join her. We drove in the dark to the Old City, and by 4:30 had pulled up chairs by the Wall.
Here is what the Kotel is like at 4:30 am: The sky is dark, but the Wall plaza is lit up by stadium lighting. Approximately 20 women are already there, whispering prayers from their siddurim. The mosque on the Temple Mount is blasting a solemn call for prayer, music that sounds at least 600 years old, and while I know how much many Jews resent the presence of the mosque, I find that the music sets a very appropriate atmosphere for concentration and prayer. Two men in staff t-shirts are on the women's side, sweeping the floor. When they are done, they bring a hose and jet-spray the plaza clean. A few prayer-filled notes which have fluttered down from the wall trail away in the water and are swept up with a few empty water bottles and a soda can. The women shift their chairs in order to avoid getting wet.
At around 4:40, a few women cluster together and say the Morning Blessings out loud, each in turn, so that the others can say "Amen" to each woman's blessings. Most of them are wearing wigs or snoods, and conservative outfits with long sleeves. The sleeves are necessary; it's chilly at the Kotel at 4:40 am.
By 5 o'clock, there are 30 or 40 women at the Wall, and it is harder to get a seat right next to it. The noise level has risen, as the growing crowd of men and women say psalms or the preliminary blessings of the morning service. The number of men is growing rapidly with chassidim, yeshiva students, modern orthodox sets of fathers and sons, American tourists . . . . and the beggars arrive as well. I dig into my wallet a few times and press coins into the hands of elderly women, who wish me a Shabbat Shalom and that all my prayers should be answered. Soon thereafter, another woman in her 50's comes around, but not to beg: she has brought twigs of rosemary and mint leaves, and offers each woman a chance to smell them and say the blessings of "boray aztai bisamim" (He who creates aromatic trees) and "boray asvei bisamim" (He who creates aromatic bushes). She is not seeking payment, only a chance to proliferate blessings of God at 5:20 in the morning. The deep intake of rosemary and mint provides a refreshing pick-me-up.
At 5:30, the sky is turning a slightly lighter blue, and morning prayers formally begin. Most of the women seem able to follow easily, though the acoustics are poor, leading me to believe that many of them attend the 5:30 services often. There is yet more noise, and the women's section is half-full. But at around 5:50, when the Amidah begins, there is not a sound save for the chirping of the birds in the growing morning light and the weeping of one or two women who are shedding tears into the wall . . .
I prayed that whatever happens next week should be for the best, and that if the disengagement happens, it should happen peacefully and in a way that sanctifies Hashem's name.
There is nothing more I feel I, personally, can do. I have shared many opinions on my blog. I have emphasized, here, my wish for national unity and for everyone, Orange and Blue, to live in brotherhood on the Day After. The rest is out of my hands. It's in the hands of the army, the police, the settlers, the protesters . . . but not mine.
In a way, that is a relief.
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