It is an ordinary, Wednesday evening at the Kosel. The air is cool, heavy with the promise of rain. The women’s side is crowded. Young children are tugging on their mothers’ skirts, while mothers gently rock strollers, soothing crying infants while murmuring silent prayers. Some women sob quietly, arms uplifted in supplication, others caress smooth, worn stone, warmed by generations of heartfelt tefillos.
Tourists necklaced with cameras rub shoulders with tichel- clad Yerushalmi women, their sincere prayers blending together. Tehillim in hand, I find a spot behind a pair of teenagers, their faces buried deep inside their siddurim. Occasionally jostled by a girl trying to edge closer to the Kosel, or a child clutching her mother’s hand, I concentrate on the perek of Tehillim in front of me.
Several minutes pass, then distracted by the piercing wail of an unhappy baby, I look up and glance around me. An elderly woman, clasping a plastic shopping basket, is standing near me. She is wearing a plain blue skirt and simple sweater. An unassuming brown beret completes her modest attire. I know her. She lives on the same street that I do, and I often see her, negotiating the steep hill that leads up to our street. We usually exchange smiles, or good morning greetings.
I had always considered Mrs. Maimon a simple, ordinary woman. She now extracts a well-worn tehillim from her bag and sways with a fervor and enthusiasm that completely disarms me. I forget about the pages open on my lap, and I watch her. Three or four women soldiers, in khaki uniforms with rifles swinging, navigate towards the huge stones of the kosel. They hesitantly reach out to touch the stones, reverence and confusion apparent in their expressions. Mrs. Benjamin notices them and their uncertainty. She turns to the soldiers and smiles warmly.
“Is this your first time here?”
The kindness in her voice is unmistakable and the girls visibly relax.
“Yes, we’re from Haifa. Our army unit was brought to the Old City of Jerusalem for a tour. We were told we could spend a few minutes at the wall, but we’re not quite sure what we’re supposed to do here,” they admit shyly.
“Would you like to say a prayer?”
The soldiers eagerly agree, and cluster around the elderly woman. I stare at this amazing scene unabashedly, the tehillim in my lap all but forgotten.
“Do you know how to say Shema?” she questions.
One of the girls nods. “Yes, I do.” The others just shrug.
Mrs. Maimon opens a siddur and thumbs through it. She points to the correct place and the girls huddle closer together. Then she begins to say the Shema, word for word, aloud, with these four women soldiers. They say each word carefully with her, copying not only the words but also the passion that accompanies each declaration. I am spellbound, mesmerized by the drama unfolding before my eyes. I admit to myself that I too saw these soldiers standing by the Kosel, uncomfortable and unsure of themselves. Yet it would never have occurred to me to offer to guide them.
They finish reciting all three paragraphs of shema together, slowly and with tremendous feeling. Mrs. Maimon faces the girls. Taking each one by the hand, in turn, she blesses each girl with good health and genuine happiness. They are elated by their experience and are effusive in their thanks. Chattering excitedly, they maneuver past double strollers and clusters of girls, disappearing into the crowd.
Mrs. Maimon resumes her wholehearted tefilla, unaware of my intense interest in her exchange with the irreligious soldiers.
An ordinary evening at the Kosel. A simple, ordinary woman, engaging in simple, ordinary actions. And four soldiers, stirred by the compassion and caring of that woman, offer a tefilla at the Kosel that can pierce the very Heavens- along with the heart of one who observed.