Memories of the Wailing Wall by David Miller
an Israeli soldier
patrolling the top of the wall
nothing above him but sky
below him all of Jerusalem.
he had rifle slung over his shoulder,
I recognized it
because my father raised me
It was our religion.
a curtain separated
the men from the women
pieces of paper
scraps of prayer
folded like bird wings
into the stones.
I approached the wall
tucked in a prayer.
even though I could read Hebrew letters
I didn’t know what they meant.
my own prayer
was to get laid.
In the crowd were girl soldiers. They looked the same age as me, had the same flares of acne. They laughed and shared cigarettes over their Uzis.
an elderly Hassid asked me if I spoke French.
un petit peu, I said.
He held my shoulder
and started saying Kaddish.
Not knowing what to do, I started saying it with him,
matching his smoky voice
then trailing away
when it got to the parts I couldn’t remember.
the Frenchman and I:
who hadn’t fought in a war
but studied them like a professor
our tour guide Yakov
who’d fought in all 5 Israeli wars
but didn’t talk about them
who shipped out to the Pacific
just before the war ended
who waited for him
who’d grown up with me
watching wars on television.
As we said Kaddish I felt everything fall away.
Was it God I felt?
or lonesomeness / confusion?
Was it seeing kids disguised as soldiers
armed to fight kids disguised as terrorists?
or was it being a kid disguised as a tourist?
Was it looking at
the house-sized blocks of stone,
and imagining them carried on broken backs?
Was it all the stories
I’d learned in Sunday School?
Abraham going to sacrifice Isaac?
Was all of it
connecting to me
now that I was here?
All I knew was that the truck drivers, the carpenters, the soldiers, the laundrymen, the beggars, the newspaper vendors, the garbage collectors: everyone was Jewish.
Which felt good in some way, perhaps the way Yakov kept reminding me:
I could always come here to live. It was the Jewish homeland.
But in another way I felt like I always did:
like I’d get a better view from atop the desert mountains
away from the crowds
and the shadow of the wall.