October 19, 2017
By: Adrea Miller-Vesely, Honeymoon Israel San Diego participant on a September 2017 trip
I’ve always had a strange feeling towards the Kotel, or Western Wall as it is often called in the United States. The Kotel is one of the most sacred places in Judaism, but I think it can also be one of the most uncomfortable places for non-Orthodox Jews like myself. While I feel a sense of reverence and awe when I’m there, I also feel ill at ease. When I arrive to the Kotel I’m immediately checked by the “modesty police” to make sure that my head, shoulder and knees are covered, then I have to split off from any men I’m with to go to the smaller side of the wall where the women are allowed to pray. As someone who identifies as a reform Jew, splitting up from men is an uncomfortable feeling. I was not raised to believe that men and women should pray apart and the smaller women’s side makes me feel second class.
I had high hopes that visiting the Kotel with Honeymoon Israel would be different from my previous experiences, but as soon as we arrived and I split up from my spouse, watching him walk away to the men’s section, I felt that same feeling of discomfort. I checked my knees and shoulders and walked over to the tiny women’s section of the wall. Like in times past, I slipped a note in the wall and said a prayer, walking away with my back away from the wall as some believe is respectful. I felt such an overwhelming sense of awe, but still that twinge of discomfort. I wanted to love my experience at the Kotel with my spouse, but I just couldn’t feel fully comfortable in that environment.
For our last Shabbat with Honeymoon Israel, our trip leaders and tour educator took us to a different part of the Kotel – the egalitarian space – where there aren’t the same modesty laws, and men and women can pray together.
It was at this egalitarian space, on our last Shabbat in Israel that I finally felt at peace at the Kotel. We prayed, sang, laughed and cried – together.
I will never forget that moment of putting my hand on the wall next to my spouse – something I never thought I’d be able to do – and then kissing him in front of the wall. I look at the photo almost every day and smile remembering the moment in time when I finally felt safe and accepted at the Kotel in Jerusalem.