The Wall and its People - a Shabbat story

A heartwarming account of the People of Israel's strength.

Dr. Inna Rogatchi

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Inna Rogatchi

The Israeli people are going through a very difficult period now, and there is a stream of visitors who would like to express their solidarity by coming to the country in the midst of the current daily terror there. We saw Dov Hikind praying in the Kotel and at the morning service at the Great Synagogue; there were the World Zionist Congress and Red Magen David's Conferences, US Congressmen and Mayors from all over the world; there was a 50-strong delegation of the leadership of Russian Jewry, and two presidential visits of Georgy Margvelashvili of Georgia and Dalija Gribauskaite of Lithuania. And more significant visitors are coming to express their  love and support to the people of Israel at this time of uncertainty, anxiety and serious personal danger.

My husband artist Michael Rogatchi and I spent three weeks in October in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Haifa, in the solidarity visit which is an annual tradition for us and our Foundation.  We have just returned back to Europe, but our hearts and minds remain in Israel, with our friends and Israelis in general.

From conversations with many of our friends around the world, I’ve realized that for many of them it is much more difficult and nerve-wracking to be outside Israel at such a time. Our dear friend, Maestro Evgeny Kissin, who adopted Israeli citizenship a couple of years ago and is travelling world-wide on his Israeli passport, emphatically, has told us after reading my recent Letter from Jerusalem  dealing with the terror sweeping the country: “You might be surprised by my reaction, but I envy you and Michael”. We were not a bit surprised. It is only natural for those who love Israel with a whole heart.

Another friend visiting Israel for the first time in her life and witnessing the recent events on the spot, has told us: “I am so happy that I have come and am here – and can see and feel it all with my own eyes. How different it is from the picture painted by the international media so devotedly, picturing Israel non-stop as being ‘isolated’ and ‘dangerous’. I would never know the truth unless I was here physically. I love every moment of it, and every bit of Jerusalem, too”.

And then, there was Shabbat the previous week. We were leaving soon, and it was no question for us, to go or not to go to the Kotel on the Friday night.  To be at the Kotel on the Shabbat eve is a gift for both of us.

The days prior to that, days of non-stop attacks and high anxiety, my husband went to the Kotel several times, the last time just before the Shabbat when we went together. He was sad and concerned. “There were just ten Jews next to the Kotel; the rest were tourists. The streets of the (Jewish part of) the Old City, always bustling with life, were practically empty. It all is so very wrong,”  he said.

We were coming to the Kotel, and the streets on the way were almost empty again. We were slightly worried. Where are the people? Who will come? All around the plaza were the Israeli soldiers, boys and girls, with rifles, on duty, tens of them. Their young faces were so very serious that it was grabbing attention momentarily. And they seemed to be pretty tired, too.  

Shabbat eve started quietly at the Kotel. There were people, of course, more than on Simcha Torah eve, and the Western Wall plaza was crowded, which was different from the previous days of terror in Jerusalem. 

We all were deep in our prayers when some humming sound came closer and closer. I turned my head to see what was going on. A big column of young men, all in white shirts, were coming across the Western Wall plaza towards the men section of the Kotel. All of them in each row of that big column were embracing each other, they were a monolith. They were singing the Shabbat Psalms on their way, not hysterically  or loudly, but convincingly and meaningfully. The songs were from the heart. The Rosh Yeshiva led his pupils with a smile on his face. The entire plaza full of tourists from all over the world was enthusiastically applauding to the singing column of young Jewish men marching to the Kotel arm-in-arm.  The young white dove was crossing the pre-Shabbat sky over the plaza speedily in the light of the projectors, landing directly on the Kotel’s stone over the entrance into the Kotel Synagogue.  Everyone around me was smiling.

The yeshiva’s singing march was a signal for festivities which started all around the Kotel: in the men’s section, the soldiers together with the other praying men formed a giant dancing circle, and people from different minyans (name for a group of praying men) were running towards the circle which grew and grew until it had to be divided into three large circles where people were embracing and singing, and embracing again.

In the women's section, we had two large circles of dancing and singing young women, with tens of female soldiers there. Just ten minutes ago, I saw them so tired, but now their eyes were full of light and they were dancing beautifully, doubly so in the uniforms.

I do not remember when I experienced such an ultimate feeling of happiness. I was not surprised. I know my people. I was happy and grateful that I happened to be there that very special night to see the core of my people, just next to our Wall.

The Thread of Jerusalem INN: IRogatchi

I was thinking that with the same ‘success’ they are enjoying now, Palestinian Arab gangsters and their supporters of all kinds can also try to claim the sky over the Wall as theirs. They can also try to re-name the clouds in that sky into Arabic, and to change the names daily, depending on the weather. The idiocy has no limits, as we know. But arrogance does, and there are means to stop it and to keep it at bay, at very least. It just has to be done methodically and pro-actively, not retroactively.

The prayers of our soldiers at the Kotel on  Shabbat eve confirm for me the meaning of this site. After greeting the Shabbat and embracing their brothers, they were so serious and so devoted in their prayers, both the boys and the girls, those youngsters with their rifles just next to our Wall. I was positive that the Kotel’s stones were transferring the energy of justice and strength of our people in its eternity to the soldiers of Israel. 

And there were so many episodes telling about the strength of the Jewish spirit during these very difficult days in our country known already as ‘stabbing intifada’: people singing ‘Am Israel Chai!’ on the bus in the wake of the savage bus attacks; thousands of people attending the funeral of the victim of the terror who lived alone; Rebetzin Henkin addressing her pupils just after finishing sitting shivah (mourning) for her great son and his wife murdered by vile terrorists in front of their children. The Rebetzin was smiling addressing to her pupils and telling them that their main goal in life is to learn the meaning of Torah. The strength of kindness is the best of the Jewish weapons. And it is lethal for the beasts inciting terror and preaching hate.

They are teaching their children to poison their knives to stab the Jews. We are teaching ours to sing on Shabbat, to embrace and care each for other, and not to be afraid to come to our Kotel under any circumstances. Our Wall keeps its people alive and strengthened for three thousand and three hundred years on.

The Moment INN: IRogatchi

Even the most well-poisoned knives crush on those stones.  And for the barbarians who are attacking our people daily it is better to realize that before they lose too many of their followers by being dealt with by the soldiers praying, singing, and being protected by the Wall of the Jewish nation.

Jerusalem – Finland

Inna Rogatchi is a writer, scholar, film maker and philanthropist. She is co-founder and President of The Rogatchi Foundation –, and founder and President of Rogatchi Films – Her forthcoming book is Dark Stars, Wise Hearts: Personal Reflections on the Holocaust in the Modern Time.