As we neared the entrance of the Old City, I made sure to observe her reaction. I had experienced the Old City in all of its beauty before, but she hadn’t. I had experienced that moment when the undeniable presence of God hits you like a freight train, but she hadn’t. I understood the history, the importance, and the holiness of this magnificent city and the Western Wall it surrounded, but she didn’t. I had experienced Friday night prayers, but she hadn’t. I was Orthodox, but she was Reform. But none of that mattered.
We rushed in, tiptoeing around the thousands of others making their way to the Kotel for Friday night prayers. We passed the various shops, full of meaningless items meant to attract deep-pocketed tourists, but that didn’t excite her. We made our way through what seemed like the most complex of mazes, but that didn’t interest her. Finally, after minutes of following the crowd full of Chassidim, Orthodox, tourists, and non-observant Jews, we were released just in front of the stairs that led down to the Kotel. And there it was, the reaction I was waiting for. She gazed out at the thousands of people, some Reform, some Conservative, some Orthodox, some Chassidish, and some merely tourists, and was noticeably taken aback by the inexplicably powerful gathering of Jews. Once we passed security, we headed down to the Kotel for Mincha. We were alone, but that didn’t discount our excitement.
I found myself comfortable within a group of flamboyant Yeshiva students. There were several moments when I would break from the singing and dancing to stare at the large Israeli flag waving behind the partition, soaking in the beautiful unity and undeniable glory of Israel and its inhabitants. When it came time for the Amidah, I maneuvered my way to the Kotel, reaching out to touch it as I prepared to pour my heart out to God. I found it difficult to push through the full-body gowns and streimels, but I eventually arrived at a spot that sufficed. As I began the Amidah, I felt numerous people surrounding me. I looked about and noticed that I was being brushed by a Chassid on one side, an Orthodox child from behind, and a tourist on the other side. I looked further right and saw two soldiers praying with their guns around their waists. To my left I saw an older man in jeans and a t-shirt, no yarmulka, slamming his right arm against the Kotel, immersed in such powerful prayer that he paid no mind to the pain he was bringing himself. When I finished, I turned around and took it all in. I recognized the beauty of the Jewish people like I never had before. I marveled at the fact that there were so many different sects praying together within one relatively miniscule area. I felt so proud to be a Jew. I felt as though my vision of having a religion united by the simple distinction of being Jewish was truly actualized and on full display.
When I met back up with my friend, she told me that she had enjoyed a similar experience. Though she didn’t shed tears like me, she felt immensely connected to Judaism while immersed in that type of multi-sect setting. That night only reaffirmed my passion for building bridges between the Jewish youth in the Memphis Jewish community. Since I wrote my article about being open minded to inter-mingling with Jews of different sects, I’ve seen vast progress. I’ve introduced many of my Orthodox friends to my Reform and Conservative friends. I’ve supported and planned events that have allowed our community to get a glimpse into their community. And, most recently, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a wonderful Shabbat dinner with both my Orthodox and Reform and Conservative friends. I could bore you with the details about the dinner, but I’d rather focus in on the deeper meaning of this momentous event. Two years ago, I never would have imagined seeing my Orthodox peers sitting at a Shabbat table with members of BBYO. Though it may have been a vision, I never imagined it would actualize. But look at how far we’ve come. Look at how open minded we’ve become. Look at the misconceptions we’ve since resolved.
Reaching out to the other communities of Memphis is not only socially beneficial, but it’s religiously beneficial as well. By showing the Reform and Conservative Jews of Memphis how passionate we are about traditional Judaism, we may just influence them to pursue deeper knowledge of Orthodoxy. We are in a unique position to positively influence hundreds of teenagers that are more-or-less just like us. We can assist them in finding their connection to Judaism. This past weekend was about so much more than a simple dinner. It was a symbol of the current revolution the Jewish youth of Memphis are participating in. It was a symbol of Jewish unity.
Though the dining hall of Anshei is certainly not the Kotel, being there reminded me of that Friday night experience this summer. It reminded me of my time spent helping a Reform friend connect to Judaism in her own way. It reminded me of being surrounded by Jews of all different backgrounds and beliefs. It reminded me that, though there is still much tension and disagreement between the sects, there is hope for a brighter tomorrow. There is hope for a flag of unity blowing in the wind. There is reason to believe that we may one day be perfectly happy with being brushed by a Chassid, Conservative, Reform, tourist, or non-affiliated Jew. There is hope that one day we will unite as one nation - the chosen nation.