I didn’t take a picture.
Today the 3rd lockdown in Israel started. Movement is severely restricted; businesses and stores are closed; school attendance is limited to the very young and those struggling to graduate high school. During the entire period of COVID, I have tried to be careful. I’ve also tried to take advantage of the situation. I’ve taken amazing pictures in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher inside and out, as if I have been granted an exclusive, private visit. Alleyways empty, shopkeepers playing backgammon, pristine shots of beautiful light on the Jaffa Gate. Picture perfect moments that have only been possible because of COVID, and the emptiness which comes with it. I’ve been to the Old City a number of times – mostly in the Christian and Moslem quarters which are normally full of tourists. I have been able to use those opportunities to broaden my knowledge of the sites and the routes. And to take unique pictures.
But one place I avoided was the Western Wall, the kotel. I’ve never taken the time in all my trips to Jerusalem’s Old City to go down to visit the Western Wall. Yesterday, the day before the lockdown, I went, but I didn’t take a picture.
I was touring with a group under the auspices of Birthright. It was a unique group with many rules and regulations because of the Corona-time we live in. Small, only 12 participants and one staff, they are all here for the year deepening their understanding of the Jewish people and our land. Our trip was cut short because of the impending lockdown and we decided to spend our last day together in Jerusalem.
We weren’t the only ones with this idea. The alleyways and squares of the Jewish quarter and the City of David were filled with groups of children and adults taking advantage of the day to see and learn about the past before all would close and people would be limited to their residences during the lockdown. Retired adults holding their cups of coffee to keep warm in the sharp Jerusalem wind, groups of teenagers with clipboards learning history on the site where it happened, and classes of elementary students trading snacks with their friends while their guide tried to interest them in the places, rubbed shoulders passing one another. Tour guides jostled for the “best” places to tell their stories.
At the Western Wall were dozens of families coming to celebrate Bar Mitzvahs before the lockdown, dressed up and posing for pictures, but I didn’t take any pictures there. My group went to pray at the wall and I couldn’t bring myself to go up to the wall.
Because the Western Wall broke my heart yesterday.
The division into capsules. The prohibition against just standing around and soaking it in. The partitions. The masks. It was too much. Instead of being a symbol of togetherness, it was a manifestation of separateness. My heart cried over all that has been lost because of this terrible pandemic. Lives; jobs; health (both mental and physical); community; and here at the Western Wall, the sense of togetherness. God commanded three holidays for the entire Jewish people to come together in Jerusalem. Why? Why not spread it out? Togetherness. Being together with others helps us to connect to God. Being with others, learning about their lives, celebrating and crying together gives a necessary dimension to the human condition.
In the last week of 2020 to have such a reminder of what has been in this last crazy year – the divisions caused by COVID, and the divisions caused by ourselves – was too much for a soul to take. So, no; no pictures. I don’t want to remember these things.
Happy New Year; and may 2021 bring a year of health and togetherness for us all (with lots of pictures of things we want to remember).