The Walls We Build

We have entered the Days of Awe. For some cosmic reason that I don’t yet understand, these days of awe for me seem to annually be the Days of Angst. This year is no different.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about walls, both the literal and the figurative. No surprise, really, given the current climate in our country, the threat by a certain candidate to build one on our southern border should he be elected president, and, as a Jew who fiercely believes in egalitarianism, some troubling news that came out of Israel in the last months.

Some walls are built on a premise of safety. Some are built for prayer. Some are built for security. Some are purely figurative. Most walls are built on an agenda in order to define some set of artificial boundaries.

And to be perfectly honest with you, I’m feeling pretty despondent about all of these situations at the moment. It seems the more I read and watch, the more I fall into that dark rabbit hole of thinking the world is nearing its end and how dare I have brought THREE children into this chaos to clean up whatever messes the collective ‘we’ will inevitably leave them, to say nothing of how these conditions will affect their life’s trajectory.

The cornerstones of the walls of hatred and fear are laid below ground. As we all retreat to our corners of the room, to “our” side – made ever easier by the internet Echo Chamber where screen anonymity = loss of mutual respect and politeness and where, with the click of the mouse, we can block opinions we don’t want to see/hear – the rebar takes shape, reinforcing the structure and hardening the pathways through which it passes.

Eight months ago, I wrote about a startling conversation with my young kids on the drive home from our local caucus. I thought the hateful rhetoric would ease as this political season has progressed and, as we now know, it has not. And I don’t know about you, but the anti-Semitic vitriol that is now present on a near-daily basis – it feels deeply personal to me.

Meanwhile in Israel, the ultra-orthodox have been ceded control by the Israeli government over who prays where at the Western Wall. They don’t allow women to hold or read Torah at the Kotel. And while we are planning to celebrate my daughters’ b’not mitzvah in Israel in a few years, it won’t be at THE wall for these very reasons. Non-Orthodox rabbis are planning on suing the Israeli government so that they have a secure prayer space at Jerusalem’s holiest Jewish site. Who needs enemies with friends like this?

How can I be a good mother to my kids, a caring wife, daughter, and sister, a cheerleader for my own community, when the fear and anxiety and uncertainty about what lies ahead in the new year grips me so tightly?

Kiln-fired brick by kiln-fired brick, the walls build ever higher.

The recent violence by authority figures and toward them (in the US and in Israel), the blame of the “other” (in the US and in Israel), the fear-fueled hateful comments section of every publication everywhere (in the US and in Israel), the inability to have conversations with those with whom we disagree (do I need to repeat myself a fourth time?) – it’s all so … paralyzing.

Before the plaster is applied and dries on these walls, giving each of us a permanent view of only the blinding white sheerness of our own making, we must DO something. But what?

“?אֶשָּׂא עֵינַי אֶל הֶהָרִים, מֵאַיִן יָבֺא עֶזְרִי.
I raise my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come?”

The walls are closing in. There is no place to turn and no way to escape. The trowels spread the mortar across the bricks, cementing them now, immovable in the earth.

I must remind myself on a daily basis to be a breaker-downer of the literal and figurative walls over which I have control in my life and in so doing, hope that I, in my tiny corner of the universe, let in a little more light wherever I go.