Read more about Hot Spots and Symbols

The Kotel

by Eliza Paradise

As I walk up to the Kotel and carefully place the slip of paper bearing my wish between two of the stones, I am overwhelmed by the emotions blown by the breeze passing through the warm Israeli air. While I had heard stories about the Western Wall when I was younger it was difficult for the young third-grade Eliza, squirming impatiently in her chair at Hebrew School, to fully comprehend all that the Wall means for the Jewish faith. However, even then I dreamed of the day when I would travel to the Wall and be able to place my own wish among the thousands of others nestled in the cracks.

Standing at the wall six years later, I perform every action with an air of slight disbelief. While I have always felt a connection to my religion, I am by no means a religious Jew. I journey to synagogue only a couple of times a year, almost all of those doing the High Holidays. I have always viewed Judaism as more of a culture than a religion: to me, Judaism is my family crowding around challah on a Friday night, debating whose turn it is to sip the grape juice first. Judaism is passover meals at my grandmother’s house in Florida and our frenzied attempts to find the afikkoman hidden in the house. Judaism is helping my mom cook brisket for our big Rosh Hashana meal. Judaism is tzedakah and traveling to New Orleans with my Hebrew School to volunteer after Hurricane Katrina. I carry my Judaism with me in nearly everything I do, whether consciously or subconsciously, when I say “oy vey” when something goes comically wrong or when I bring matzah to brunch with friends during Passover.

However, standing in front of the Kotel, I feel a different, much deeper connection to my religion. I see women praying nearby and I feel a kinship to them. Facing this wall–a symbol of the resilience of the Jewish people, of strength and of peace and of hope and of love–we are all humbled by these emotions and countless others. I look for my wish and as my eyes scan the crevices in front of me, I see many identical pieces of paper shoved in identical openings between these century-old rocks, all bearing wishes, hopes, and dreams: the wishes, hopes, and dreams of an entire people. It is in this moment, at this spot, that I feel the full weight of my religion. I feel the pain of the slaves in Egypt and the joy of the Maccabbees and the crushing fear and despair of a people forced into hiding during the Holocaust and finally I feel my own personal pride in my religion, my culture, and my heritage. As I am beckoned to leave, I wipe a tear from my eyes and take in my last breath of the air which hums with this hope, desire, and tragedy.

Commentary by Bernice Arricale

The ideological importance of hot spots and shared traumas is beautifully illustrated in this essay by a young Jewish American woman who is surprised to find a deeper connection to her heritage than she seems to have expected. What if there is no “hot spot” to symbolize the particular trauma of a group? How can people, like the descendants of enslaved Americans, for example, symbolize centuries of trauma in a way that enables them to draw energy from that past and from each other?