It is Tish'ah B'Av, a national day of Jewish mourning held in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem. I sit in Jerusalem, in my apartment that for the last two months or so has been known as Beit ROI, where young Jewish innovators from locations ranging from Miami to Brooklyn, from Amsterdam to London have filled the rooms with laughter and energy. We have hosted joyous conversations here over Shabbat dinners - religious and secular, with additional geographical representation from Denmark, Los Angeles, Washington, DC...There is a distinct disconnect.
Last night I sat on the steps near the Cinematheque and listened to a panel of Jerusalemites speak in Hebrew about the City's divisions and potential hopes for unity. Although thrilled by my ability to grasp most of the conversation, what I understood doesn't inspire great optimism - the lines are clearly drawn and yet utterly murky; there is defensiveness and chasms of misunderstanding that prevent unity and peace.
Then I pushed my way into the Old City, making my way toward the Kotel plaza, as people shoved me from behind and glared at me. Heading down toward the Kotel, I saw that the women's side - never as large as the men's side on a good day - was teeming with girls, women, babies in strollers, older ladies begging for money, all united in an act of pushing, shoving silently and sometimes non-silently, again with the glaring as people strode toward the ancient stones, hoping to get as close as they could to the Temple that once was, the place closest to God and to the core of Jewish identity.
By the time I get there, there are no Americans anywhere - it's like English has been digitally removed, and I'm just visiting in an utterly Israeli experience. In the throng of thousands, I am the only one saying "slicha," hoping a "pardon me" will help others who are pushing me to clear a path, allow me access to their holy site and to our shared identity. I never made it to the wall, instead hovering above barefoot girls about ten years my junior, who sit cross-legged and wail soundlessly at the destruction of ages past. I do not connect to them, although I feel a sadness in this place for many reasons.