Wailing: The Jewish Philosophy of Identity and Coalition

Wailing by Sabrina Thaler

On a sticky note from the pack on my desk, with a black ballpoint pen, I scribble the outlines of a pair of lips – blaring, open, screaming, but silent. Behind the lips, a geometric mosaic: chaotic angles and lines. These shapes become stones, mutualist symbiotes, clinging to rigidity so the other stones do not fall. I write the first three letters of the Hebrew alphabet, in print, in the margin between the lips, and the stones behind the lips transform again. They are now united in a collective: The Western Wall in Jerusalem. People, and the stories, prayers, and convictions that unite them. I draw bold lines sporadically throughout the sticky note, sometimes touching the lips. These are the prayers that lie between the stones. They have been placed there by thousands of people for centuries, forming sentences too complex to be parsed, storybooks that transcend time and worlds. Most strikingly, they illustrate a people whose prayers have been shunned and quieted, yet maintain a loyalty to their God so unrelenting, they uphold boulders.

Judaism is a faith that recognizes the value of each individual – not because a higher power does so, but because it’s our only means of survival. My experiences in Hebrew School, Jewish summer camp, and accompanying my mother as she manages our temple are punctuated by persistent reminders of my importance: the necessity of my voice, my stories, and my perspective on my heritage maintain the communities I am present in.

I find passion and a drive to fight from the individualist culture I have been blessed to experience as a Jew. Antisemitism has bled into our communities in unassuming and untraditional ways – one of which being, ironically, the notion that we experience no prejudice whatsoever. Our people have grown weak because of abuse, but more notably, because of negligence. We have sought home after home, acceptance after acceptance, but no one let us stay for long. Still, after millennia of persecution and loss, each individual Jewish soul and the courage it carries maintains the soul of our people. We have formed our own Wailing Walls, finding connection to tradition, and each other, in isolation. Our nation is embarking on journeys for justice and belonging for many peoples – specifically, those who must combat the remnants of oppression and persecution on the very land they live on. I recognize the volume of my voice as a white person, and I seek to contribute to a movement for those who have been kept systemically, rhetorically, and historically silent. But I am learning to acknowledge not only the power of my voice when it is spoken to those in power, but when it is spoken to those who are struggling and need justice. The cries for help, expressions of pain, and prayers for forgiveness and change that have defined the legacy of my people, and that meet each other in historical Wailing Walls, must not only be calls for the advancement of ourselves, but for change for others. This is Tikkun Olam, the virtue of repairing the world; this is the Torah.

It has been a process of discovery and awakening as I realize that remaining united is contingent on every person, their ideas, and a willingness to listen to these ideas. Watching and attending Black Lives Matter protests, it is more striking, I have found, to consider not the amounts of people who are fighting, but how these boulders of injustice touch the lives of each person in the multitude. It is more meaningful to understand that every Black person and every member of marginalized groups have stories written – whether they be prayers, memories, or families – that amalgamate to form a portrait of a people who struggle, and have been silenced, but have found strength in a unique patchwork of identities and experiences.

The Wailing Wall carries Jewish stories and voices to God. Now, it must begin to carry them to Black stories and voices. We must use our strength to strengthen others and create networks of empathy. We must seek to elevate the unique experiences of oppression that Black individuals face, above our own. We must make room for, and center, those who have sought amplification. Our obligation as Jews is to extend our tokens of hope – the Wailing Walls of union and struggle – to others.

I turn over the sticky note. I write with no regard for neatness: “My words wail for yours.”

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