Visit to Kotel stirs memories

B’nai Amoona’s Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose


Those who know me are well aware of the fact that I am a great lover of the Kotel HaMaaravi – the Western Wall – which is often referred to simply as the Kotel, the Wall. Though technically “only” an outer retaining wall of the ancient Jerusalem Temple, for many Jews it remains the most sanctified of our sacred sites due to its proximity to the Temple Mount, which housed the inner chamber of the Temple known as the Kodesh HaKodashim, the Holy of Holies.

During my frequent visits to Israel, I try to make the Kotel both the first and the last stop on my itinerary. Somehow, the Kedushah (special inherent sanctity) of this place seems at once to be the best way to reacquaint myself with the uniqueness of the Holy Land and the most poignant way to bid farewell to the one place on the planet where I feel the profound sense that heaven and earth – humanity and Divinity – enjoy an intimate lovers’ embrace.

Over the years and in the course of the many trips I have accompanied to the Eretz Yisrael, I’ve noted a fascinating and curious phenomenon. Some people are Kotel people, while for others the Wall is an interesting historical monument, but surely not a Makom Kadosh, not a place of palpable holiness. I am not sure quite why this is the case (though I do have a few theories), but one way or another, for me, the Kotel never ceases to stir the innermost chambers of my soul.

During my recent time in Israel, I had the good fortune to spend an evening with some Rabbinic colleagues – from across the globe and from the spectrum of denominations – discussing the challenges facing our Jewish Homeland and the Jewish People. Needless to say, there were many diverse opinions expressed and yet none of us – even those who were most critical of the current Israeli Government’s policies – denied the miracle which is the modern, democratic “Start Up Nation.”

At one point during the conversation, one of the colleagues asked a remarkably sensitive question. He wanted each of us to reflect upon one event/encounter that has shaped our impression of Israel. One moment that “sealed the deal” and made us – forever and for always – Ohavei Tzion, Lovers of Zion – Zionists.

Some of the colleagues were stumped by the question – unable to pinpoint a single moment or experience. However, for me, the answer was quite simple. When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my father, Rabbi Neal Rose (may the Holy Blessed One sustain him in good health), took me to the Kotel to experience the special Duchenen, the Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing, which is recited by hundreds of Kohanim on Rosh Chodesh (the new Jewish month celebration) at the Western Wall. Awestruck by the power of the moment and overwhelmed by the mass of humanity, I lost track of where I was and where my father was standing.

Terrified beyond belief, I began to call out “Abba, Abba (father, father) – where are you? Please Abba, I need you! Please Abba, I’m lost! Please Abba, please find me!”

What happened next remains one of the most transcendent and inspiring moments of my entire life – and may very well have much to do with why I chose the Rabbinate as my vocation. A man – a total stranger – softly placed his hands on my face and began wiping the tears from my eyes. Lovingly, he lifted me in his arms, held me tight for a moment in an attempt to lessen my fear, and then began to pass me over his head to the people standing around him. One by one, these men – religious, secular, young, old, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Israeli, and Diaspora Jews alike – hoisted me with great gentility and concern overhead until finally I made my way back safely to the arms of my father. Never before and never since have I felt such a strong sense of belonging – a sense of being cared for, sustained and nurtured by a group of people. This, I think, is what we mean when we talk about the notion of Ammamut, of Jewish Peoplehood. And this is what – to my mind – makes Israel unique.

Israel – and in particular the Kotel – is the place where Jews can feel most connected – both to our Heavenly Parent and to our earthly siblings. It is the place where we can actuate our Biblical and Prophetic Visions for creating an aspirational Jewish Civilization. It is the place where we can realize our age old dreams of creating a sovereign Jewish State whose society lives by the lofty and noble callings of a God who “Bachar Banu Mekol HaAmim – who chose us from amongst the nations of the world” to serve as beacons of hope, optimism, ethics, morality and integrity. It is the place where we feel most strongly the idea that “Kol Yisrael Chaverim – all Jews are inextricably bound to one another”.

As our family prepares for Sabbatical leave, I encourage each member of our Jewish Community to make plans for her/his own “Aliyah” – his/her own sacred pilgrimage – to Eretz Yisrael. I promise you that the experience will be like no other and that you too will feel the unique sense of uplift, nurturance and connectedness which is the hallmark of an Israel Experience.

With blessings for a New Year filled with an ever increasing sense of belonging to the unique and blessed collectivity known as Am Yisrael, the Jewish People.

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose is The Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair of Congregation B’nai Amoona; a Rabbinic Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute; and will spend the next academic Year as a Fellow at the Melton Center for Jewish Education of the Hebrew University.