This story actually happened a year ago, the first time I visited Israel. I happened to be on a Taglit/Birthright trip. For those of you who do not know, Taglit sponsors a free trip to Israel for anyone Jewish or of direct Jewish lineage, between the ages of 18-26. For all you travelers who may qualify for this trip, I’ll include a link at the bottom of this post.
Anyhow, back to my story.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a religious person. Although I grew up as a practicing Orthodox Jew, I ultimately ditched my beliefs, for personal reasons. So when I arrived to Israel, I felt none of the “spirituality” that my friends and teachers had told me I would feel. In fact, Israel felt quite similar to the United States: while it did have an undoubtedly Middle Eastern vibe, I found it to be extremely westernized and modern. Outside of a few religious areas, it was also a surprisingly godless place. For example, Tel Aviv is a well-known party city, loaded with nightclubs and alcohol fuelled debauchery.
One of Israel’s historical highlights is the Western Wall (also called the “Wailing Wall”), located in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Western Wall is one of the only remnants from the sacred Temple Mount, and is therefore the holiest of all Judaic sites. Jews from all over the world come to this wall to pray together; it is a sight to behold.
The wall itself wasn’t what made me cry. No, to me it was just another ancient wall. What set me off was the group of people praying to the wall. Let me explain.
It was quite a powerful experience, seeing so many people united under the same premise. Here I was, a tourist, watching hundreds of people bawling their eyes out in unanimous prayer. The sheer level of emotion being expelled was enough to get me emotional. In a world that is often divided and warring, it was powerful to see so much “togetherness.” It made me think about what we can accomplish as a species: how, if we only stop for a minute we can realize that we all want similar things out of life. Here were Jews of all different shapes and sizes, all different religious backgrounds, and different countries. Yet, for this short moment, they were all able to look past their differences and group together.
Another thing that really struck me is how the Wailing Wall manages to remain relatively untouched by tourist traps. Even though many tourists come to the wall, I still got a genuine sense that the people were there for honest, personal reasons. Unlike Cambodia’s Angkor Wat or India’s Taj Mahal, there are no children running around trying to sell you Wailing Wall key chains and jewelry. It is very easy to immerse yourself in the spirit of the site, without too many distractions.
The Wailing Wall is a site to behold, and I strongly recommend that anyone going to Israel takes a trip there. This godless writer saw the communal power of unanimity, hope, and prayer.
Click on the link to check out Taglit Birthright.
My name is Yonah Paley. I quit my job in the United States to travel. I also write movies and do photography. As I backpack across the world, I share stories, philosophy, and travel tips.