To get to the holiest site in the Jewish faith, one must first go through a metal detector, and have one’s bags checked by a Tahal (I.D.F.) soldier. For me, it wasn’t a big deal. I was clearly an American Jew, in a long skirt and flip flops, wisps of blonde hair escaping from under my kefia, traveling in a large, rowdy group of teenagers, with Israeli midrachim (counselors). The soldiers opened our bags, glanced inside, and sent us through.
Earlier that day, when we had arrived in Jerusalem, our tour bus pulled up to a garden on a hill overlooking the city. From where we stood, we could see the Jewish quarter, the home of the Kotel (the Western Wall), the Dome of the Rock, the place where Christ had his last supper and Crusaders fought a Holy War. It was unreal. Every year on Passover, we say, “Next year in Jerusalem,” praying that we will one day stand in the Promised Land. And there I was, standing in the Promised Land, looking down at the remains of the second Temple.
While we sat on the terrace, looking down at Jerusalem, two men were approached by a group of Tahal soldiers and questioned. I asked my midrach, Doron, what was going on, and he said that it was because they had dark skin, that Tahal soldiers were taught to be suspicious of people with dark skin. Doron said that even when he was in the army, when he wasn’t in uniform, soldiers sometimes stopped him and questioned him, because of his dark skin. Behind his back, I could see the faint line of another wall, the wall dividing Israeli and Palestinian land.
When we finally went to the Western Wall, I didn’t feel anything. Women around me were crying and praying, cramming slips of paper with all their hopes and dreams written on them into the cracks between the giant bricks. I touched the stone, smooth from the touch of millions of hands before mine. I tried to say a prayer, but I couldn’t seem to remember anything beyond the brachah over bread. Instead, I ripped a piece of paper out of my traveler’s journal, and wrote a note.
“Dear God, if there is a God,” I began. I asked for all the normal things: peace on earth, success and so forth. I tried to think of what my father, who had wanted desperately to come to Israel for so long, would ask for. I settled for, “and please answer whatever my father prays for.”
Also, in that letter, I asked God a question. It’s a hard question; I am not the first to ask and I don’t think I’ll ever really get an answer, because no one ever has.
I asked why there was such a thing as war, and why there has to be a wall between the Jews and the Palestinians, why the Jews and the Palestinians hate each other so much, why terrorists blow themselves up in streets full of children celebrating Purim and why Israeli soldiers bulldoze Palestinian orchards. It’s a long question, and I’ve been trying to answer it on my own. The truth is I don’t know what to believe. I know there will be an answer someday to the millennia of hatred in what I still consider to be a Holy Land. I guess I believe in that, then. I believe in hope.
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