[Disclaimer: I wrote this below, and then saw “today’s” Daily Prompt about writing about a place you’ve always wanted to go to. Since I did that today, here’s what it stirred up in me.]
I had a deeply moving religious experience, once. Not the only one I’ve ever had, but certainly the one that moved me the most, to my very core. The one that changed my life forever. And it didn’t happen today, when I went to the Old City in Jerusalem. Because incredible experiences, truly moving monumental experiences, they only happen once. But I knew that, heading to the Kotel today. I knew that, but still, I had to go there to really find out just how magnificent my one time was, to really appreciate all of its beauty and depth.
Here’s what my experience was like. It was just about three years ago, in May 2010. I had just moved to Los Angeles a few weeks earlier, and had settled in to my new life as a single mom, living 50 miles away from my (now) ex-husband (I had filed for divorce at the time, but it wasn’t finalized until six months later). Still recovering from another lost love, who had just moved 3000 miles away when I moved to LA. And I found a real home in LA, with a congregation that welcomed me and took care of my children and even offered yoga classes for moms with free smoothies on Monday mornings at dropoff time. A wonderful, warm place, with a wonderful, warm, motherly rabbi, who I had just met the weekend after I moved at the Mother’s Day brunch, along with the yoga teacher and other moms of young kids.
So I started going to the yoga class, to help my healing. And it really did help. It was held on the “bema” (the stage, which I found out was the original bema of this temple) of the social hall. And one day, just a few weeks in, after class, I thought to myself, I’m a member of a congregation now. I love it here. The rabbi is great and maybe I should start going to services. So, why don’t I take a peek and see what the synagogue is like?
The synagogue and social hall are separated by a pull-out wall, and that day, the wall was just a little bit open on the side. So I went in around that wall, entering the temple (unknowingly, at the time) at the top of the center aisle, facing the ark where the Torah is kept.
And I just gasped. Stopped in my tracks. Felt this overwhelming happiness and joy spread through me and the world seemed tinged with pink (turns out that the walls, pews and carpet are mauve) and the huge iridescent 10-foot-tall shimmering ark stood before me, with it’s asymmetrical waves at the top looking like an ocean breaking. My instant first thought, as I fell in love – the next time I get married, it’s going to be here.
And then I noticed the 15-foot-tall brilliantly colored stained glass windows, depicting Moses parting the sea, and Adam and Eve in the garden, and the flames of the burning bush. Moved in closer to the ark, and looked up, and saw the crystal stars above in blues and purples. Didn’t even notice, then, the tree of life window nearly hidden from view. I just fell in love that day.
So, the Kotel today was amazing, was like walking back through time, was something that I’ll never forget and I’m so glad I experienced. It helped deepen my understanding of what this place means, what my people are at our core. But. It can’t compare to the joy I felt the first time I walked into my own synagogue, my home.
It’s the little things that are the most wonderful signs – when I was about to hop off the train at the stop for the Old City, I noticed an Israeli who had just gotten on at the last stop. He didn’t speak any English (I asked him), so he didn’t know what his t-shirt said – I guess he just liked it. But it was a bootlegged version of the UCLA Bruin, and it read “The West is the Best” on top and “California” on the bottom. I have to agree, and there’s just no place like home.