Monday, September 26, 2005

“Shivti b’Vét Hashem . . . “—Davvening at the Kótel

January 9, 2006 update:

I'm going to make another attempt to "insert" my favorite among our photos of the Kotel. Wish me luck.


My first rabbi in New York used to complain bitterly that using a non-Orthodox prayer book was divisive. Every Jew should be able to walk into any synagogue in the world and pray, he said. Finally, after several years of “shul-hopping,” visiting mostly Orthodox synagogues on “sheni’s” and “acharon’s” (days of the Pilgrimage Festivals not observed by Reform or, in some cases, Reconstructionist, Jews), I concluded that he was right. Therefore, I undertook what’s probably still, to this day, one of the greatest Jewish learning challenges that I’ve ever undertaken, with the possible exception of learning to chant the Torah reading (do kriat hatorah) for the morning of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement): I learned to pray the entire matbéah shel t'fillah (the core required part of the service—everything word from Bar’chu through the [Musaf] Amidah) for weekdays, Rosh Chodesh (first day of a Jewish month), Shabbat (Sabbath) and the Shalosh R’galim (Pilgrimage Festivals).

Unfortunately, I was still in the learning process the first time I went to Israel. It was the summer after our wedding. I was 29, and Our Favorite Physics Student was yet to arrive.

I stood at the Kótel haMaaraví—the Western Wall, sacred to Jews as the retaining wall holding up the expanded Temple Mount, and the only surviving wall pertaining to the Temple—and literally didn’t know what to do. I knew that I was standing on sacred ground, and yet . . . I left feeling empty, as if I’d missed something.

I had.

This time, we managed to get to the Kótel on three different days. And on each day, I knew exactly what to do. First, I went up to the Kótel, placed my hand on this wall that had seen my ancestors wait for the opportunity to bring their offerings to Hashem, and said Ashré—Happy are they who dwell in Your house. Which I was. Then, to make room for other women waiting behind me, I backed away a few yards/meters—and davvened (prayed) the rest of Mincha, the Afternoon Service. I even went through a good portion of my Sefer T'hillim (Book of Psalms), reciting all the psalms that I knew until it was time to leave. On each occasion, I made sure that, in addition to Ashré, I recited the other two psalms that I know that I thought were appropriate to the location, Mizmor Shir Chanukah haBayit, l’David (A Song, A Psalm for the Dedication of “the House,” by [for] David, Psalm 30), and L’David—Hashem Ori v’Yish’i (Of [for] David—G-d is My Light and My Salvation, Psalm 27), also known as the so-called Penitential Psalm, recited during the month preceding the Yamim Noraim (High Holydays) which contains the verses “One thing I asked of Hashem, that shall I seek: That I dwell in the House of Hashem (Shivti b'Vét Hashem) all the days of my life.” (My girlfriend the cantor pointed out that I’d missed one: “Samachti b’omrim li, ’Bét Hashem néléch. ' Omdim hayu raglénu bi-sh’arayich, Yerushalayim. I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the House of Hashem. Our feet stood within your gates, Jerusalem” (Psalm 122). I’ll remember that one the next time I davven at the Kótel. [The soundtrack for this psalm, playing in my mind’s ear, is wonderful—there I am, in the alto row of my former synagogue’s choir, singing Cantor Charles Osborn’s choral version.])

I stood there, davvening, reciting psalms, looking at this wall that had seen so much of my people’s history. It was a moving experience, awe-inspiring. This time, being at the Kótel truly meant something to me. This time, the past reached out to the present and touched my soul.

This time, I belonged.

Now, I belong.


Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I apologize to my readers: If you think you're seeing a rerun, you are. I tried so many times without success to add a photo to this post that I finally gave up, copied the post into Word, deleted it and started over again. As you can see, I *still* couldn't get the photo to appear here. It's a nice photo of the Kotel, shot from an unusual vantage point. If you'd like to see it, feel free to e-mail me and I'll attach a copy to the reply.

Mon Sep 26, 07:39:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Batya said...

Lovely post.

I've also had trouble with the photos, but most of the time I manage just using the simple blogger photo. As long as the photo is saved in my computer I can post it.

Wed Oct 05, 01:47:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A worthy seranade of bog-standard tefillah. I guess there is what to be said for us all being the same for some things.

Tue Oct 11, 08:39:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

BenL, thanks. G'mar chatimah tovah.

Wed Oct 12, 12:05:00 AM 2005  

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