She ran her hands slowly down the exterior of the wall, brushing her fingertips over every blemish. Her breath was heavy and controlled, the type of respiration you only have when thinking about breathing. In, out, in, out, in- she held the air in her lungs and felt it writhe inside of her, itching to make it’s way out. Pressing her palms firmly against the Jerusalem Stone, Hannah pushed with everything she had.
Hannah Pearlman wasn’t sure why she pushed the Western wall that day. Perhaps she wanted to move it, move it away from that toxic place. From the hatred and violence and persecution that haunts the holy site, Hannah would relocate the wall to a more peaceful place.
Maybe she wanted to knock it down, and erase the Kotel completely. Bury the most historic and Holy site to the Jewish people in its own rubble, and cover up their traditions. Hannah never wanted to destroy the stories of struggle, the bloodshed, brutality, and eventual victory of her people. But the misogyny and discrimination, the plethora of “-isms” that permeate through Jewish society and cascade L’Dor V’Dor, from generation to generation, Maybe Hannah wanted to bury that.
Regardless of her motive, Hannah felt completely and utterly powerless. She channeled everything she had, her pain, her anger, her resultant strength, and forced it upon the wall. But the Kotel didn’t budge. Why should it? A wall constructed by the great Herod, and hardened by the trauma, trial and tribulation which encased it. If anything could move this wall, Hannah Pearlman was not it.
Hannah cursed under her breath, causing a woman to the right of her to glance up, give Hannah a condescending look, and then continue with her silent prayer. To Hannah’s left, over the barrier, she could hear the voices of the orthodox men carry across the Old City of Jerusalem. The city trembled in the sorrow of their psalms. So did Hannah. So did the wall.
3 weeks before Hannah tried to push the Western Wall, Robert Pearlman felt god for the first time in his life. 47 years of skeptically accepting the existence of a higher power was all but erased on a busy Thursday afternoon on the Upper West-Side of Manhattan. Now, New York City breeds a certain kind of pedestrian. One who disobeys the red hand when given the opportunity, and plays a game of chicken with cyclists on every sidewalk or street corner. The Big Apple pedestrian has simply a place to go, and a way to get there.
However, New York City also breeds a certain type of driver, as loud and mean as the vehicles they operate. New York City drivers don’t break laws, for fear of tickets or death, but they certainly bend them, stretch them, and even make a mockery out of the conventional rules of the road.
On this day in late may, as the sun beat down on Robert Pearlman’s neck and sweat flowed like rivers down onto the collar of his shirt, he assumed the role of pedestrian.The driver never saw him, and he never saw the driver. But as Robert began to take his second step into the unprotected crosswalk, he felt a tug on his ankle. Like a puppet, Pearlman was pulled backward by somebody on the other end of the string, and the yellow taxi blurred by as if it never happened. Robert watched the taxi meld into the mayhem of The City, stunned and unsure of his place in the world. He sat on that corner for hours, though it felt like years to him, just watching the cars go by and wondering if he deserved to be underneath the tires of one of them.
As his legs began to fall asleep, and his throat became increasingly parched, Robert seemed to reach a conclusion. He stood up, surprisingly under control for somebody seemingly so flustered. Like a pawn in a larger chess game, he moved only where the strings pulled him, and they were pulling him home.
Adina Pearlman was washing dishes when her husband burst into the house, unsure of what had taken control of him that day. He rushed into the kitchen, kissed her on the cheek, grabbed her shoulders and spun her around to face him. Anita yelped, but smiled at the attention.
“God is real,” Robert stated, as if it was an undeniable truth. “He’s real and he wants us to go to the Promised Land.”
Adina considered her options. On one hand, this all could be some weird joke. Her husband certainly wasn’t known for his standard sense of humor. He also wasn’t known for his faith in God, nor for caring about what this God wants. On the other hand, Robert’s eyes were wild and gleaming, his hands were shaking. He looked possessed, yet more sincere and honest than she had ever seen him, and that scared her.
Adina decided to sit him down on the couch and talk it through. He explained the events of the day; the tug on his ankle, the feeling in his gut, the voice in his head. She paced back and forth in front of him, unsure of what to respond.
Adina wasn’t raised religious. In fact, she was raised to look down upon religion, to scrutinize claims of a higher power, and base her values on logic rather than mysticism and bedtime stories. She had converted when she married, but only to please Robert’s parents and grandparents and seemingly endless number of barely related cousins. Her devotion to the Jewish faith was based in solidarity at best— non-existent at worst.
But looking into her husband’s eyes, she didn’t think she had ever seen a man more confident and content with what the world wanted out of him, nor more positive and at peace with what he wanted out of it.
Despite all of her reasonable inhibitions, something inside of Adina wanted to follow Robert to Israel, both spiritually and physically. He looked up at her, with the face of a humbled man, and asked only that she trust him, that she follow him into the darkness, and together they would be led to the light. This seemed like no small ask to Adina, and her vocal chords wrestled and tangled over what to answer. But when Adina opened her mouth, the syllables “Oh” and “kay” fought their way out. Even she was shocked to hear an affirmative response escape her lips.
Robert simply smiled at his wife, his eyes watered,and a tear trickled down his left cheek, where it clung tightly before falling to the coffee table below. He looked to where it had landed and said a prayer, something Adina had never seen him do in 21 years of marriage.
4 hours after Robert Pearlman felt god for the first time, Hannah Pearlman was informed that she was moving to Israel. There was no “Hey honey, how was school today?”, no dinner waiting on the table. Hannah was welcomed home by a weeping father, a mother in relative comatose, and an eery silence that seldom entered the Pearlman residence.
After sitting at the dining room table awkwardly pretending to do her homework, she finally asked her parents what was going on. Adina shot Robert a nervous glance, but he smiled at her reassuringly.
“Have a seat, Hannah,” he said, in a disturbingly soothing tone. He proceeded to tell Hannah all about his day, starting with that prophetic moment on the Manhattan sidewalk, and finishing where they stood now, prepared to pick up and move to the Middle East.
Hannah wanted to cry. She wanted to scream and kick and run away and never come back. She wanted to ask so many questions that all start with W’s like “Who the fuck is this god and what the fuck has he ever done for me and where the fuck has he been all my life and when the fuck did my father go insane and most importantly, why fucking me god, why me?”. But she didn’t.
Hannah, like her mother only hours before, simply looked into Robert’s eyes, and understood the gravity of the situation. The core of Robert Pearlman, forever altered by that moment on the sidewalk. She understood that she had no say in the matter, just as her father felt his hands were tied. The Pearlman’s sat on that couch for the rest of the evening in silence.
2 days before Hannah tried to push the Western Wall, Adina Pearlman said her first prayer. It was in English, and silent, and she wasn’t sure who it was to, but it was a prayer nonetheless. Her words danced around row 67 in the back of the airplane, though nobody seemed to notice. The orthodox man to her right leaned against the window and as far away from Adina as he could. She mumbled the words under her breath and stared past him out of the El-Al aircraft and into the endless sky. Lost in her own thoughts, her mind began to drift outside of the Tel-Aviv bound plane.
She prayed for the most practical of things.That her daughter would find friends at her new school, that they would all learn more hebrew, that her husband’s new job would be enough money to live on. She wasn’t sure how to end the prayer, so she kept on praying. Robert sat asleep two seats down from her as she hoped for the health of every member of their extended family. Hannah stared intently at the screen in her face, while Adina asked for food for the impoverished and weak. Adina prayed until the plane landed in Israel. She had never learned the word amen.
1 day before Hannah Pearlman pushed the Western Wall, Robert Pearlman saw the Western Wall for the first time. Truthfully, it was only his first time at the temple mount in real life. Between the countless hours of studying and preparing to move over the last two weeks, Robert had rarely slept. But when he did, his dreams brought him there. He’d imagined it in different ways, each more fantastic than the one before. The face of god etched into a stone wall, a burning star of david branded into the barrier.
And yet, as he stood and faced the barren stone sheet in reality, it was more perfect than he could have imagined. The wall pulled on him regrettingly, apologetically. It sang songs of repentance not to him, but to his people. He walked into the crowd of men in front of the Kotel, bumping into strangers yet unaware of anyone’s presence but his own, and something higher. Always a New York City pedestrian, his route to the wall was direct and brisk. Out of his pocket he pulled a note scribbled on paper from a ripped, yellow legal pad. He read it over a few times before closing his eyes and pushing it into a crack on the surface of the stone. He turned and walked away without ever looking back.
1 day after Hannah tried to push the Western Wall, she found herself standing in front of it a second time. She hadn’t really wanted to go, in fact, she had explicitly told herself she wouldn’t. The Wall made her feel small, alone.
Yet something pulled Hannah back to the Kotel, like invisible strings tied to her ankles. Her feet begrudgingly followed the whim of this puppeteer, rather than her mind. She found herself exactly where she had stood the day before, staring at the facade, unsure of what to do next.
A crumpled yellow note slipped out the wall as all this was happening, as many notes do. The wind carried it, swirling above the praying man, and over the barrier between the males and females. It slowed, and landed at Hannah’s feet. Curious, as well as a little bored, she picked it up and unrolled it.
As you continue to move my feet for me,
I will move my hands for you,
and together, we will move mountains.
The note slipped through her fragile and trembling fingers, and she processed the idea that out of the millions of notes and prayers in the wall, her father’s had fallen at her feet. As her shock and wonder grew, so did her awareness of the strings, which wrapped around her ankles and took hold of her unwillingly. She became increasingly uncomfortable, as the strings became tighter, more existent.
Unlike her father, they did not amaze her, they violated her. She looked at the wall, that monstrosity that would not move for her, and realised something; The wall moved for nobody. Through every human that had tried to push, break, or ruin it, it had stayed strong and in control. Even the strings couldn’t move this wall.
Hannah looked down at her own strings, small yet so powerful, so controlling. She glanced at the wall, then back to her feet and smiled. She knelt to the ground, and quickly unlaced the string on her right ankle. She shook it around and waved her foot in the air. Excited now, Hannah unlaced the other string quickly. She stood a free woman.
Looking around at all the people, Hannah understood their presence. How the strings had pulled them there, and held them captive, and submissive. How the Jews in Egypt had simply traded their shackles for strings, and wandered for 40 years because of it.
Hannah was like the wall, completely autonomous. She smiled at the Western wall one last time. Forever a New York City pedestrian, Hannah turned and walked briskly away.