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The Wall

From a distance, the Wall didn't seem nearly as large or impressive as I had imagined it as a child.

Mrs. Hertzl, my second grade Hebrew teacher, had been describing the Wall, how Jews prayed facing West at all times, and how people stuck notes to HaShem (God) in its cracks. Mine was one of those notes. She had placed all her students' handwritten messages into those ancient cracks. I had felt a little more holy knowing that my words were being delivered straight to God, so far away from my small classroom in San Diego.

But back then, I didn't feel Arab, though it made up half of who I was. I felt fully Jewish. It's all I had ever known. And through this lens of Judaism, the Wall seemed greater and holier than anything I had ever come across.

Twenty years later, as I approached the Wall on foot, though I couldn't remember the words I had written then, I wondered if my note was still there. Not likely, I thought, but maybe its essence remained. My essence, however, had changed. I had discovered and embraced my father's Saudi Arabian contribution to my identity. And I could no longer see anything in front of me as clearly as I had when I was eight.

I walked across the large earthen stones marveling at the enormity of the wall. I glanced to my left and noticed the men worshiping just as I had imagined when I was in second grade.

It seemed strange, and a bit insulting, that still in this holy place men and women were not equal. Neither were Arabs and Jews. There were no Arabs around. At their holy shrine just above the wall, the Dome of the Rock, Jews had just been banned.

Despite my discomfort, everything around me was peaceful. The sky was blue; the sun, warm on my skin; the air, clean and quiet.

I wrapped my scarf over my head, tying it in a knot at my chin and slowly approached the wall. When I was close enough, I reached out my hand and touched it. The stone was cold, solid and smooth after centuries of facing the elements.

All of a sudden its true enormity hit me. I felt heavy and completely distressed. This Wall's power came to me not in its size, but in its longevity. It had survived so much on so many levels: war, worship, hate, coexistence, snow, heat, pollution, technology. Still, after all this and much, much more, the Wall stood. It had survived.

Tears began welling up in my eyes, and I became aware of the women to my left and right praying in Hebrew. Then the tears began to fall as their ancient tongues lapped my ears. The Wall seemed wiser and greater than I, than those around me, than anyone who has ever existed.

With my hand flat on the Wall, I looked up to see its large stones reach to the sky, and I asked it if this fighting between the Arabs and Jews, between the Jews and anyone, between Arabs and anyone, between anyone, would ever finally end.

Could the Wall endure many more years of this stress? My emotions shook with the weight of the conflict.

To get to the Wall I had entered through a bullet-proof glass checkpoint and had my bags searched by armed soldiers. There were no Arabs around. In fact, there had been few Arabs visible to me during my entire weeklong trip to Israel. When I did see them they were the waiters, bell boys and cleaning staff at hotels and restaurants. They were all on the periphery. Present, but in the shadows of Israeli society.

That reminded me of a past trip to the Sinai peninsula with my family, during which nearly everyone we saw had been Arab. But the curbs of the roads remained striped white and blue, a side note of its Jewish history. Again, present but easy to overlook.

Yet, this Wall I stood before, remained--a testament to endurance.

With my hand still on the Wall's cold stone, I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths. I reached into my pocket and took out a piece of folded paper that I had scribbled on before I went through the checkpoint.

I stuffed it into one of the shallow cracks, realizing that my note from so many years before had probably disintegrated over time. And I paused, hoping that if there was a greater power, and if that greater power could understand my note stuck into this enduring monument, that my hope would resonate and that peace would be possible. And, if I could live with empathy and understanding from my Arab and Jewish blood, that coexistence outside of my body and mind's walls could occur.

As long as the Wall remains, so does my hope.

Hebrew for "The Name." Used as a substitute for the Hebrew name for God, which religious Jews are forbidden from uttering outside of prayer. ("This lovely dinner was provided by HaShem - and the Goldsteins!" or "If, HaShem willing, we arrive safely...") A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Shoshana Hebshi-Holt

Shoshana Hebshi-Holt is a writer and editor living in San Francisco.

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