I stood before the Wailing Wall, praying. In one hand I held my prayer book, and with the other I pressed my yarmulke firmly down on my head. It was the yarmulke I had worn at my Bar Mitzvah ten years before, faded, too small now, and needing the help of my hand to stay up there as I bobbed back and forth in the ancient, rapid-blowing way of my people.
Such is the spell of the Wall. It draws to it even someone who for many years has not put on his yarmulke to pray, who has outgrown that little helpmate of reverence. The Wall reminds you of what the great rabbis have always said, that whatever doubts you might have about God, you cannot forever do without Him.
Between the traditional prayers that I read in my rusty Hebrew I would look up at the stones and cracks of the Wall, those patient, listening stones, those cracks stuffed with little pieces of paper on which people wrote their wishes, their messages to God.
I remembered the stories of the Wall that my grandfathers had told me when I was a child. How it had once been a part of a great Temple and how the Temple had come to be destroyed. How our people had scattered all over the world. How , throughout the exiled centuries, in every Jewish home was always heard the prayer, "Next year in Jerusalem." And how, at last, we had reclaimed the Wall, the tears of longing had turned to tears of joy, and wandering to dancing.
And I remembered, too, the many pictures of the Wall my grandfathers had shown me. Such a little Wall, really, to fill so big a need, but rugged and beautiful. Always I would stand when I looked at a picture of it, as a patriot stands when the flag is raised.
Now, here in Jerusalem, standing before the Wall itself, I felt the power of those stories, those pictures again; I felt the wonder of my childhood again.
I finished the last prayer and shut my book. Others, sharing with me the miracle of being there kept alive the sounds and silences of prayer. And they, I wondered, what were they feeling?
Next to me stood a little boy, very poor, no shoestrings, but at his feet a stack of shiny- covered, holy books, as if he wanted God to see how much more he valued spiritual than worldly things.
Next to him stood his opposite, a big-bellied man who looked slyly up at the sky and thrust his belly right against thw Wall, as if he were letting God know that he and the Wall stood on equal terms.
A few feet away from him were three women, middle-aged and old, all leaning on the Wall, their heads pressed against it, as if on the shoulder of someone always strong, always there when needed.
I took out a piece of paper and wrote my wish, my message to God. "Dear God, " I said, "my heart still believes in You, though to my mind much is not clear about Your ways. So for myself I ask Your patience. For my people, in their struggle for peace, I ask Your help. Remember how in the beginning when You needed man, it was Abraham who answered, 'Here I am'? So now, when his children need You, won't you please reciprocate? Won't You answer, too, 'Here I am'?"
I folded my message up and looked for a crack to put it in. But every crack I saw was full; some even held many messages. I stepped slowly backward until I stood several feet from the Wall. And for the first time I saw how loaded down it was with messages, with every conceivable weight of the human heart.
How weary it looked, my beloved Wall, that ruin my grandfathers had called "the heart of stone and yet of mercy." How weary of our voices, our silences, our sly looks heavenward, our heads on its shoulder, our pieces of paper, our eternal asking for God's attention. Did it, I wonder, sometimes wish that we would all just go away?
I felt a tugging on my hand. It was the little boy with the broken-down shoes. He wanted me to give him a boost so he could put his message to God in one of the higher cracks. I hoisted him onto my shoulders and carried him to the Wall.
"Do you think the wall is too tired today to have you put my message in with yours?" I asked him.
"Oh no," he said, taking mine, too, and squeezing both in. "The Wall has room for everyone."