The Wall by Shoshana Silberman
as published in New Mitzvah Stories for the Whole Family,
Goldie Milgram and Ellen Frankel co-editors, © 2014 Reclaiming Judaism Press
Available through all booksellers
“Attention everyone!” shouted Rabbi Berenstein into the microphone. “It’s time for the raffle! I’d like to call on Cantor Roth to come up and select the winning number.”
Cantor Roth bounded up to the front of the room and put her hand into a large bucket full of folded sheets of paper. She pulled one out, opened it up and read the number in her lovely alto voice. “Number 118! Who has number 118? You’ve just won a trip to Israel for two!
“That’s me! That’s me! I can’t believe this!” exclaimed a very startled Jessica Brenner. Then she ran up to receive the gift certificate, as her equally surprised family looked on and cheered. As the Brenners were leaving the Purim Carnival, their friends rushed over to congratulate them. These friends seemed genuinely happy for them, even though they themselves had obviously lost the raffle.
When they got into the car, Josh, who had recently turned thirteen, interrupted the laughter with a question. “If there’s only two tickets, who will get to go on the trip? One ticket should be for me,” he stated in an authoritative voice, “since now I can have an aliyah at the Kotel (the Western Wall).
“That would not be fair,” pleaded Leah, age ten. “You just had a bar mitzvah with all the fuss and attention on you. It should be my turn to do something special.”
Their Mom calmed everyone down and said, “We’ll discuss this tomorrow night, after Dad and I have had a chance to think about it.”
The following evening after dinner, Mom made an incredible announcement.
“We’ve decided that with two trips being sponsored by the raffle, we will have
sufficient funds for both of you to come with us, provided we all watch our spending, over the next few months.”
Smiles broke out on both children’s faces.
The trip was arranged to begin two days after school ended. Until then, the entire family was busy, planning, packing, listening to conversational Hebrew CD’s, and dreaming about the adventure ahead. All had agreed that as soon as they were settled in their Jerusalem hotel, their first outing would be a trip to The Wall.
The Brenners felt that this holy place would connect them to their ancestors and to their history. Since the 1967 war, The Wall had become a symbol of national unity, a place of pride. Praying there would be a way of showing their gratitude, that finally the Jewish people had a country of their own.
They also liked the custom of writing a prayer on a piece of paper to be put into a crevice in The Wall, and decided to write their own prayers in advance. Dad had joked that since the last time someone in their family put a folded piece of paper and placed it into something, they were very lucky. Perhaps they’ll be just as fortunate this time, as well.
And so it was that on the day after they arrived in Jerusalem, the Brenner family took a cab to the Old City and made their way to the Kotel. As they approached the ancient site below, the family became very silent, each engrossed with his or her own thoughts. It was hard to believe that they had finally come here. Leah broke the silence by wondering out loud, if it was real or a movie set. Josh pointed out that it was a busy place with such a diverse crowd of people, everyone pouring out their hearts. Mom and Dad, with tears in their eyes, just held hands. Finally, Mom suggested that they recite the Shehechiyanu prayer for reaching this special time together.
Dad then requested that they sit down, so he and Mom could explain how they would proceed. Mom said that Dad and Josh would be going to the men’s side to pray, and Mom and Leah would be going to the women’s side.
“There’s just one other thing, Leah,” Mom noted. “Women are not allowed to sing their prayers out loud.”
Leah was stunned, but it was Josh who spoke up first. “But that doesn’t make any sense! Women always sing the prayers at our synagogue.”
“Yes,” acknowledged Dad, “but there are rules here that are very different from home.”
Leah then posed a question. “What if I decided to sing Adon Olam? I really like that prayer.”
“Well, some people may get very angry and even try to hurt you.”
“What!” shouted Leah. “Why would anyone want to hurt someone who is praying?”
“I don’t know,” said Mom, “ but we need to follow the rules. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“I’m not sure I really want to go now, said Leah, “unless we could go to The Wall together as a family.”
“I understand how you feel,” said Dad. “I wish it were different, too. You should be aware, though, that there are many people around the world working to make changes so that men and women can pray together, with all of their voices heard. I hope that when we return as a family – and I hope it will be soon, there will be changes.”
“Leah, I won’t make you go to The Wall,” said Mom, “but I want to put a special prayer in a crevice. It’s a healing prayer for my friend Hannah, who is sick. You know,” she said, like she was thinking out loud, “I have some paper and pencil in my pocketbook. Maybe we all could add prayers to the ones we already wrote, asking for a way for women to pray as they wish at this holy place.”
“I like that idea,” said Leah, and the rest of the family nodded in agreement. “I’d like to do that, so I’ll join you, Mom.”
Yet as they walked towards The Wall, Leah was still sad that her Adon Olam could not be sung. Her Dad and brother parted with them and went to the men’s section, where the sound of the davvening (praying) could be heard. Mom and Leah entered the quiet women’s section, where tears seemed to substitute for song.
The ancient stones kept beckoning to Leah to come closer. Her hand trembled as she placed both of her prayers in a crevice. As she stepped back, she noticed that there were many tiny birds that had come to the women’s side. They flew about between the cracks, as if gathering up blessings and bird voices. Leah knew at once that they were singing her song—her Adon Olam!
She burst into tears as she cried out, “Thank you, birds. Thank you so much! When I come here next time, I pray I will be able to join you in prayer.”