I did a lot of Googling articles about Birthright before I went on the trip. I was trying to see what skeptics said or what the trip was like in general, since they give you very little information beforehand. I also wanted to see what skeptical participants said. I found one article from Gawker or Jezebel and that was written by a skeptic who had a profoundly emotional reaction to being at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Cool, I thought, that’ll probably be me.
At least I hoped.
We went to the Western Wall on our first day in Jerusalem, naturally. Gotta try to convert all the agnostic Jews among the group ASAP. Those of us who wanted to be Bar/Bat Mitzvah were supposed to have the chance, but when we got the little area just before the Western Wall where those things take place, there was a little boy’s actual Bar Mitzvah happening so the women in our group could not participate, only the men. That chafed my ass, a bit.
I guess that’s where my saltiness with this Wall started. But still I was hoping for some great, moving experience that would shake me to my core.
Also I think I was skeptical of this wall because, as I’d mentioned in a previous post, my friend had told me that when this area was controlled by the Jordanians (fact check) it was mostly covered in garbage and most Israelis had no idea why it was important, even when they were fighting in the street to reclaim it. If they didn’t know what it was, why then should I be so concerned with it?
But: still. I wanted to have a profound, life changing experience there. But maybe that was my fault.
We left the men-only Mitzvah (ugh) area and split into two groups – men and women and descended up our respective sides. I had written a note and placed it in a crack in the wall because what the fuck, maybe it did actually work and then I’d be pissed when I’d failed to put my piece of paper wishing to be rich in the wall after (that was not, in fact, my wish). Then I looked around and I was perplexed.
I stared up at the ancient historical wall in front of me and waited for the emotion to wash over me.
Nothing happened. I looked around at the other women praying, some who were praying hard, some were in groups, and many were wiping away tears.
To quote A Chorus Line, I basically felt “nothing.”
One of my friends sat down and started meditating. So, I followed her lead, as the daily meditator that I am, and did the same. Still: nothing. I may have “prayed” to feel something.
Then I stood up and began to look over the wall at the men’s side. They were having a grand old time. There was a huge table with who must’ve been a big-time rabbi reading from a old AF torah surrounded by other men, including men in suits with guys who had earpieces. They were not fucking around on the men’s side.
Not only did I not feel some big emotional upheaval in front of this incredibly sacred spot, but I wasn’t on the side with the singing and general party-having. (This was magnified tenfold on Shabbat the following day.)
Maybe my expectations were too high? I just walked away from the entire experience feeling really disappointed. But maybe that’s how agnostics are supposed to feel: Unsure. If so, that’s fine with me. Maybe deep down my feelings about religion, despite how much I might have been telling myself that I wanted to have a profound experience, I knew I just really wouldn’t because it’s kinda-sorta bullshit and I actually don’t believe it’s anything more than a really old wall in a really old city?
A lot of my Birthright-mates had emotional experiences and I’m happy for them. I hope they got what they were expecting, or more than they were expecting, because that’s always fun.
But I just walked away feeling like a Bad Jew.
Oh well. What can you do? Let me know in the comments if you’ve had any notable experiences at the Western Wall to make me feel worse about emotions, or lack thereof, during my visit.