Shaya writing his note to God our first night in Israel, to place between the sleek stones of the Western Wall.
Shaya writing his note to God our first night in Israel, to place between the sleek stones of the Western Wall.

image image imageShaya wrote a note to God at home but forgot to bring it, so on the long plane ride from North America to the heart of the world, he wrote a careful note in cursive script.

He asked for world peace, to win as many indoor soccer games as possible, and for a cousin’s illness to be cured.

He’s my tender little guy, so the idea of carefully thinking out and crafting a note to God with heartfelt requests is completely within his nature.

But my older kids, well, they tend to care more about their iPhones and their friends than a conversation with God.

Except Israel changes you.

You come here and the sun-kissed air, the whisper of the smooth pink stones, and the myriad stories of how we came to be here and why we keep coming back, transform you.

Suddenly, you want to pray. You want to observe commandments that at home you have no interest in or connection to.

You get swept up in the music of the Friday night service, the women’s voices and the men’s mingling into one cool chorus, and when a woman in the back of the makeshift shul tentatively recites the words of Kaddish for a lost parent, you turn and face her and say amen at every possible opportunity.

So it was that my older kids, Asher and Eliana, wrote notes to God. Asher wrote his in the hotel, careful to cover the page so no one could see his words.

I desperately wanted to know what my deeper-voiced, taller-every-day teenage boy asks God.

And then, at Robinson’s Arch, the beginning of the Western Wall of the ancient destroyed Temple, my strong, sweet girl sat down on a rock with a notebook and a pen and started to write.

She filled the first side of the page, turned it, and kept going on the back, filling most of the second side. Again, she shielded her words from view, and so I have no idea what my 12-year-old daughter could be asking God.

We are not a family that focuses on God much. Yes, I’m sure we all believe, but it is more of a fleeting, tangible thing, as in, I’m walking down a nature path and am overcome with the idea of this incredible world and everything on it and I feel that unspeakable gratitude for every single moment of my life.

I don’t picture a big man in the sky with a white beard and stern finger telling me what to do or how to live. I do believe there is a divine way to this thing we call life, and that there are so many inexplicable things that we cannot do anything but ascribe those moments to Something Bigger.

But I don’t force my kids to pray and I don’t recite baruch Hashem¬†after every good word. We don’t talk about God much.

And if I were to write a note to stick between the thick stones of the Western Wall, I’m not sure it wuld begin with Dear God or not.

My children, though, of their own volition, took pen to paper to make requests of God, confident in his presence and oversight. Shaya tucked his into a crevice at Robinson’s Arch. Eliana, too.

Asher’s went in low down toward the floor on the men’s side, he in red and blue shiny basketball shorts on a brilliantly sunny day, feeling as overcome as ever, and proud, I imagine, of this momentary connection to God.

When King Herod’s people built the Temple thousands of years ago, they knew that people looking up at tall buildings would be overcome with a bit of vertigo. To avoid that, they placed the heavy Jerusalem stones a tiny bit more inward from the last layer’s edge as they built the structure.

It worked. You stand there and look up with awe, but you don’t get dizzy. You can see each new layer a tiny bit further in than the layer below it, and it is a comfort that you won’t be so overcome by the immensity of these things that you’ll fall down in agony.

There is beauty in the idea that a comforting presence will take care of whatever worries us. And so my beautiful children placed their heartfelt wishes in God’s hands, comfortably, carefully, confidently, knowing all will be well.

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