Soon after I established our Hineni organization I started taking a group to Israel every summer. People of various backgrounds joined us – mostly secular.
One year we had a gregarious young woman named Beth with us who was loads of fun and kept everyone laughing. Every day we rose at the crack of dawn to tour and at midnight we would go to the Kotel. No small feat – considering we were all exhausted. But no one complained. As a matter of fact, our nightly visits to the Wall became the highlight of our trip. But why at midnight? There is a tradition that King David would place his harp on his terrace and at midnight as the winds of Jerusalem blew they would caress the strings of the harp and the harp would begin to play, beckoning the king to write his immortal psalms.
David’s harp may have disappeared in the sands of time but the winds of Jerusalem continue to blow, and if you know how to concentrate, if you know how to listen with your heart, at midnight at the Wall you can still hear the sweet music of David’s harp.
At that magic hour there are certain regulars who can be found at the Wall. I guess they can best be described as the guardians of this holy place. Among them was a Sephardic Jew who in an eerie but powerful voice cried out, “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.” He drew out each syllable of each word until it penetrated our souls.
And then there was an old man dressed in white who sat on the floor mourning and crying for our holy Temple which is no more. His cries pierced our hearts and we hoped that on the wings of his supplications our prayers might also ascend and reach the Throne of G-d.
Beth had her own way of describing our nightly visits to the Kotel. “It’s strange, but in New York I partied almost every night and the next day I didn’t feel good about myself. But here, after spending the night at the Wall, I feel an exhilaration, a spiritual energy that enables me to keep going the entire day without difficulty.”
Beth was not only a people person, she was also an animal lover. One evening as we dined at one of Jerusalem’s outdoor restaurants she received an added dividend. Jerusalem abounds with multitudes of stray cats and if you are dining al fresco you are sure to be visited by one of them.
There are a variety of opinions as to how these cats came to the Holy City. Some claim they were imported by the British during the mandate to combat an epidemic of mice while others say the cats are reincarnations of souls that were sent to Jerusalem to do penance for their sins. Whatever you wish to believe, the fact is Jerusalem has a huge number of street cats.
That night when we were having dinner outdoors, a little kitten came to visit our table. Beth immediately fell in love. She fed the kitten, held it in her arms, and decided to take it back to our hotel. But as we walked, the kitten jumped out of Beth’s arms and disappeared into the darkness of the night. Beth was devastated. She felt guilty that she had removed the cat from its natural habitat and feared for its survival. After all, it was only a kitten.
In honor of the Sabbath our group returned to the Kotel. A multitude of people converged there, Jews from every part of the world speaking a variety of languages and dialects, each singing in his own tune but each singing the same song. “Lecha Dodi – Come my beloved, let us welcome the Sabbath Bride.” Beth rushed to the Wall and among her many prayers she asked for the return of her kitten.
Following our prayers we made our way back to the hotel. We were all immersed in our thoughts and overtaken by the awesome beauty of Jerusalem. After a half hour’s walk, when we finally reached the hotel, an incredible sight greeted us. There, sitting at the entrance, was Beth’s kitten. If we hadn’t seen it with our own eyes we would never have believed it. Overjoyed, Beth took the kitty to her room and fed it.