I stood there at the kotel in Yerushalayim, the holiest site we have, and tried to pray.
I searched for the words to express myself, but even more, I searched for the emotion I knew I should feel.
My lips moved soundlessly as I began a one-sided dialogue with God. I told Him that this year has been hard for me, that I have learned a lot, but that I have lost a lot as well. I told Him that, as much as I have gained, I am concerned that the past few months have brought me to a place I’m not happy with, a place where much of my passion is merely surface-level. I am worried, I told Him, that some of the things I’ve learned have had negative effects as well as positive ones. For example, increased understanding of the other side of an issue can weaken one’s own convictions. If I can see every side of any coin, my own view becomes more blurry, my determination to follow through less intense.
You know that I still have my beliefs, I said. They’ve shifted this year, of course, as I’ve grown, and that’s a good thing. And I can still argue my perspective as eloquently as ever, and it sounds right to me, and True. But that’s just it. It’s all sounds. I like the sounds, I like the thoughts behind them, and when I articulate it, I am happy to believe it. But what is belief if it isn’t manifested in every aspect of life, if you don’t feel it there pulsing, behind everything you do? Judaism isn’t, it can’t be, purely intellectual. Intellectual it must be, I believe that, but it must be emotional as well. And more than emotional—it must be all encompassing. I used to have that, at least, much of the time. But now…?
And I told Him that I know the old me is gone. A certain purity of faith, a certain innocence, has vanished. I feel blasé now, in a way, jaded almost. I feel flat. It comes with the loss of emotion, which itself stems from a few factors I can (but won’t) name. I’ll regain the emotion, I am determined to do it, and so I will, but I will never have the old me back. I’ll reach a new level, somewhere more nuanced, more complex; yet I will miss the way I was. I’m a lot older now—not in days, but in spirit. I will be refreshed one day, I pray—but there is no going back. I resolve to go forward.
So I stood there, talking to Him, spilling out my soul, yet all along I realized: it wasn’t real.
I wanted it, so badly, to be real. I was trying so hard. Yet I still couldn’t feel anything. I said to myself, this is the kotel, the holiest place, I must feel the connection. But then I answered back: this is only the outer wall. Inside, behind this wall, the Beit Hamikdash should lie. Behind this wall is where the Shechina really dwelt. But here—I was on the outside.
I stood, gazing up, at the stones of a wall, too solid to break through. And inside myself stood another structure of stone, separating me from my emotion, from reaching God and holiness. And I felt—how I hated to admit it!—that I was only talking to myself.
As I backed away from the kotel and into the plaza, my heart was heavy—because that was the only thought that could wet my eyes with tears.