After I left the Heritage House, I called Brad almost as a formality. It didn’t matter where he was because I knew where I wanted to go. It was like a little kid who was so happy to be at the fair and found their favorite ride and never wanted to leave. For me, mine was the Kotel. It would probably always be that way.
I walked down the steps again, went through security and headed to the women’s section. Almost as if it were fate, a piece of candy landed right in front of me. It was in a bright pink wrapper, and it seemed strange to be here in such a holy place.
Suddenly, I turned my head and saw the women, their heads peaking over the divider and their tongues undulating in that Persian yelp of joy as they were reaching into the bags. I approached them and they offered me candy pieces and began speaking to me in Hebrew.
“Sorry, I speak English,” I said. Like most Israelis, they switched almost immediately for me.
“We’re throwing candy at the bar mitzvah boy,” one said in a thick accent to me as another piece of candy fell at my feet. I picked it up and tried to hand it to her, but she shook her head.
“You should eat it,” she said. “It’s good luck to eat candy like this. Brings sweetness.”
I pulled the bright pink one out of my pocket and showed it to her, acknowledging it was thrown over the barrier into my path. She nodded and encouraged me to keep it. As I thanked her, walked away and let the strawberry flavor melt on my tongue, it seemed so normal, so easy. Like every day I could be here and see something simple like this, where G-d brought an interesting turn to my day.
So far there have been three visits in my life to the Kotel, and two of them were in a 24-hour period. This third one was particularly special to me, because it was the first one where it was just normal. There was no desperate goodbye, no crying return. Just a simple, “Hello G-d, hope you’re doing well, I’m happy to be here.”
It was like a dream — sleeping three minutes away from this place, coming up and down the stairs as I pleased to simply just offer a prayer, a check-in, my own personal thanks. It was a great relief sweeping over me.
Although I knew this wouldn’t be a permanent part of my life, it felt so perfect in my world right now. I was a stranger in a strange place, watching the kids run through the streets and the singing men as they accompanied kindergarteners to the Western Wall to the sounds of drums. Yet as the yamulke salesman recognized my face from when Brad introduced me to him, as Chaya gave me her number so if I had any questions she would answer them, as I wandered through the Judaica shops, I was intrinsically a part of it all.
Brad eventually came out of his room and we didn’t have much time before I had to pick up my luggage and catch a bus to Tel Aviv.
“There’s somewhere I want to take you,” he said. “I want to take you to Aish HaTorah.”
“I don’t think I’m allowed in there,” I said. Many of these places were for men only.
“No, of course you are,” he said. “Let me.”
As we walked down the streets and approached the building, he explained to the doorman about how he was a student there, I had just gotten here and he wanted to take me to the rooftop. The man cocked his head towards the staircase and we began to climb.
“I just saved you five shekel,” he said. “That’s usually how much it costs to come up.”
As we climbed the stairs, I wondered how any rooftop could be so great, and wondered how many stairs I could climb through the whole city, not knowing that it wasn’t the stairs but the roof that would take my breath away.
Suddenly, I was on top of Jerusalem, overlooking the Mount of Olives, Kotel, Dome of the Rock — everything. Every little detail, stacked like little bricks, greeted my eyes and played the strings of my heart like a lute. My mouth was open and tears were coming to my eyes.
“Reina, tell me what happened to you here,” Brad asked softly. He didn’t know, and I let it out to him, to the world, to G-d almighty. I spoke the horrible things that the experience taught me to do which put people in precarious positions later and about the man who betrayed me. But yet without it the Kotel would have never been so sweet. I would have never gotten to now – beautiful, blissful now.
Suddenly, I heard a melodic voice cut through the air and echo off the bricks, like it was calling from the walls.
“What is that?” I asked.
“It’s the Muslim call to prayer,” Brad said, pointing to the Dome of the Rock. “From over there.”
I heard it like a siren, playing in my ears and watching as it was unconsciously being danced to by the swaying bodies below it. A few minutes after it ended, a chorus of men echoed singing “Od Davenu Chai,” rhythmically as if there were thumping of footsteps alongside them. This was followed by church bells ringing through the stones, as if there was a wedding about to occur. It made realize this city, the depth of it all: I stood in the middle of three beautiful faiths that came together in this place, where the modern world seemed to begin.
Brad walked away for a little bit as he left me to have some privacy on the rooftop. I spread my arms wide as if trying to embrace the wind and the glory. My soul was part of the Kotel now, somehow a part of this city. And although I was leaving for a little while, there was a home for me to come back to. And the best part of it all is there was no longer the fear that I never would return.