On a crisp spring morning, I found myself in a lovely, almost surreal setting: an upscale cafe in a quaint, artsy village in Mishkenot Sha'ananim, the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the Old City in late 1860. I sat both matter of factly and full of wonder, sipping pungent coffee on the balcony in continental comfort, overlooking those cherished walls of Mount Zion and the Old City.

I gazed across the busy highway below, up a steep hill that throngs of people were walking up—pilgrims with a song on their lips. They disappeared inside a stoned arch, Jaffa Gate, to approach a golden timeless holy place called the Kotel, to offer up a psalm, a sigh, a tear to the L-rd who made this all.

From the Heart: Women often come to the Kotel with a raw intimate immediacy.
From the Heart: Women often come to the Kotel with a raw intimate immediacy.

I, too, was there the other day to offer prayer for those in my life in need of healing, and for all the ill among the Jews and the people of our world.

But this morning I sat at the cafe as the cypress bloomed, the birds chirped, the traffic snaked slowly through those endlessly fascinating patient wise hills, now bedecked in spring verdant green. Come July, the parched hills will lay quietly under the fume spitting tour buses and thousands of sandaled feet scurrying up their paths; they’ll welcome their returning children, the summer crowds, the Birthright and tourist throngs, waiting thirstily for the winter rains and quieter days to fall again.

Spring Song: The fields bloom and burst with energy, grasses and flowers dancing in the breeze.
Spring Song: The fields bloom and burst with energy, grasses and flowers dancing in the breeze.

Before I found the cafe, I strolled the village grounds—nestled under the protective sails of the Montefiore windmill—and saw this benefactor’s carriage on display. I was overwhelmed, imagining the courage, the caring and the chutzpah he had to travel through hostile empires in a tiny carriage; the lack of comfort he must have endured. Down unmarked dirt roads through dense forests swarming with gangs, marauders and lurking danger. The vision and dedication he had just to cross the European continent and get here, but he came to give, to sustain. He established the village to offer decent housing for the Jews cramped in the Old City and built the windmill to provide livelihood.

Seeking Refuge: Painted after a brutal terrorist attack, the blood-stained dove is nestled in the weary, comforting stones.
Seeking Refuge: Painted after a brutal terrorist attack, the blood-stained dove is nestled in the weary, comforting stones.

That carriage is smaller than the minivans that adorn my neighborhood, which, as every suburban mom knows, are a must with heated bucket seats, video players and four-wheel drive. And, of course, you can’t travel without gas-station plazas every few miles to refresh, refuel and carouse the nosh aisles. But travel and endure and build Sir Montefiore did.

Walking through the neighborhood park, I happened on a small memorial for fallen soldiers, dedicated to this piece of precious land of depth, dreams and meaning. As I slowly deciphered the Hebrew plaque, I was blinded by tears and a pang in my chest. What it took to secure, to sustain, to defend defies any comprehension.

Embracing Mama: A battle-weary soldier embraces the wall in June 1967.
Embracing Mama: A battle-weary soldier embraces the wall in June 1967.

I tried to envision bombs falling mercilessly, Jordanian snipers picking off any movement, soldiers scurrying up these alleyways up to the walls, bursting into the gates, with screams, smoke, fire and anguish ... all so I can sit and drink this coffee, and a few miles over members of the Knesset can debate and argue, and across the road the pious and the hopeful, the cynical and the believers of every faith, color and creed can approach.

I never tire of sitting near the Kotel, watching and listening to the many languages, styles and varieties of peoples of this earth. Many appear more tourist than spiritual, laden with baseball caps and cameras. But whoever they are, their expressions subtly change, their faces reveal an inner yearning, as they walk up humbly and extend their hands, as they find a spark of hope and reverence and reach up to those quiet stones.

Wall of Connection: An intimate moment, the sun sparkling on the pages of the siddur.
Wall of Connection: An intimate moment, the sun sparkling on the pages of the siddur.

Hevel Hevalim, so much of what we do is fleeting and transient, says King Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Fleeting vanity. So much of our busy and scurrying importance is laughably empty dust, and what place knows it better than these patient stones, waiting for us to finally figure out what is enduring and real—and finally join hands to make this place, this city, this land, this globe, a garden that connects with Him in harmony.

A monochromatic palette emphasizes the quiet meditative atmosphere
A monochromatic palette emphasizes the quiet meditative atmosphere

Here, in Jerusalem, by the Gates of Zion, you can taste it, feel it, breathe it. The air itself is sweet and laden with a deeper reality. It hints and beckons and calls. Wake up, sweet souls. You’re real. I, G‑d, am real. Let’s be who our hearts and souls know we really are.

One day. Soon. The sweet throngs of humanity standing at the wall, their earnest quiet prayers reach up, the happy bustling sounds at the falafel cafe just up the stairs, the beckoning azure sky and wispy filament of clouds say it’s possible.

Of Comely Appearance: “My dove, in the clefts of the rock... your voice is pleasant and your appearance is comely.” (Song of Songs chapter 2)
Of Comely Appearance: “My dove, in the clefts of the rock... your voice is pleasant and your appearance is comely.” (Song of Songs chapter 2)

Maybe today.

“Our feet were standing within your gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem that is built like a city in which all Israel is united together. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May all those who love you have peace.” (Psalm 122)

My Land, My Garden: The sun sets over the ancient hills, a stone wall and tree of life.
My Land, My Garden: The sun sets over the ancient hills, a stone wall and tree of life.