45 Minutes in Jerusalem
It was so long ago, but yet it feels like it just happened. I was in Jerusalem July 16, 1999, a 17-year-old with short hair wearing a burgundy t-shirt, black plants and brown sandals. I was carrying my favorite stuffed Snoopy doll in my red hiker backpack. And I will never forget how much time I spent there: 45 minutes. It was a blink of an eye in my 31 years.
I cried when I saw it coming through the forest: The Dome of the Rock of the Old City bathed in gold sunlight, welcoming me into its very arms. It was like every second of my existence before this moment led up to this very moment. I cried as my friend Eve held my hand because it was so beautiful and tragic all at once. After all, just as I was about to receive this gift, it would be stolen just as quickly.
It was because July 16, 1999 was the day I was betrayed so badly that my naivete of childhood seemed to fall away. The driver of that car, one of the escorts to my fate, made sure of that. But like an innocent prisoner heading towards the death chamber, I was given one last meal, and I would drink in this place if I could.
As we parked the car, I sensed my feet knew exactly where to go. Everything felt natural for a split second. I let go of the fact that, against my will, I would be back on a plane to the United States in a matter of hours. I let go of how this was wrong and I was meant to stay. I just held on to the fact I was being led to the Kotel, the place I had been waiting patiently to go from the moment I arrived in Israel.
I hugged Eve goodbye, not knowing she would be a part of my soul for the rest of my life. As I walked to the Wall, 15 minutes had passed. It seemed like every step I took in the city someone was cast off, until finally I parted from everyone and took this last step of the journey alone to my part of the Kotel.
The women swayed back and forth with open hands fervent in prayer. I had never seen women so passionate. I grabbed a head scarf, a dull muted gold cloth, and inched my way forward to the stones. And as my hands finally found them, my body heaved every emotion of that day into the Wall’s arms.
How deep my wounds were didn’t matter as my lips kissed the smooth rocks and my fingers danced upon it. I didn’t know when I would return; I was terrified I never would, not until the skin was stretched across my arms and my legs were too weak to hold me up. I kissed and embraced the stone again and again, like a lover who was unsure when she would see him again.
I needed a prayer, something, anything to offer before I was sent away. As my mouth opened, my voice waivered in the air, my tears staining the cloth I held to in my hands.
“Shema Yisrael…” I cried softly, saying the words out loud so G-d could hear the words of a desperate soul. The ladies couldn’t see me as I said the only prayer I knew by heart that I could say, the only one that could fit this 15-minute limit of heartbreak.
That day, I died; it certainly felt like it that morning crying as I found out about the betrayal that would haunt me for years. This moment, though, I was born again to the world with fire inside of me, a woman who stood among others, who would never give up. This new woman knew the struggle of her people intimately, and became determined to fight against any obstacle thrown her way.
As I walked the 15 minutes back to the car that would take me west, my voice was muted by awe. I was ready for the rest of my existence it seemed, although still hungry for this place. As we drove away and Bob Dylan’s voice soothed my breaking heart, I realized the blink of a moment could last an eternity in the soul. And I would never forget.