Standing in front of the Kotel, I feel rather out of place. Sweating profusely in my thick cotton jeans, I fiddle with the strings of the blue polyester shawl I received at the entrance. Finally, I settle on knotting the shawl at the front in an awkward bow to prevent it from slipping off my shoulders. Self-consciously, I realize my rainbow-colored Mickey Mouse bucket hat must make me stick out like a sore thumb.

The crowd thickens as I approach the wall. Every inch of the women’s side of the wall is full, and the rest of the crowd behind waiting for their turn. To my left, I notice a young woman in a headscarf with her face buried in her book, rocking back and forth. To my right, an older woman chants prayers into the wall with a melodic rhythm. A little girl in front of me greets the wall with a whisper, a pat and a kiss.

As I observe the women around me, the spot in front of me clears, and I realize I should step up before it fills again. I reach out, place my hand on the smooth stone, and bow my head to the wall the way I witnessed others before me doing. I close my eyes and let the wall ground me.

For a moment I stand there clutching the wall, unsure of what to do. Then suddenly, I feel the warm embrace of the entire community around me. It dawns upon me that although outwardly I may look out of place, standing here at this wall, I am a part of something. I am a part of a culture, a history, and a people. Growing up in a small American suburb with a minuscule Jewish population, I spent my formative years in a disconnect from Jewish community. Intellectually, I knew that I was Jewish. But now, for the first time, I more fully feel what that means to me. Standing with my head to the wall, I let the visceral sense of belonging wash over me. When I lift my head, my mind is clear, and my body is light.

Romi Manela, Northeastern University ’24, is a health sciences major interning at the Haifa Women’s Center through the Boston Onward Israel program. 125 students from schools across Massachusetts have professional internships in their fields of interest in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa this summer. Visit for more info.

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