writers’ block and the wailing wall

Perhaps by chance, or maybe because it’s spring, and we’re all tempted to leave the computer behind and go out and enjoy the fine weather, and the rebirth of nature, I’ve read two articles about writers’ block in the last week. And I was reminded of a fine post I read a few years ago, by a painter I like very much, and whose blog I read regularly. Her name is Janet Weight Reed, and she gives courses in water colors. You can see some of her work here: http://www.janetweightreed.co.uk/index.html. She wrote about the need to warm up, when we start to work. Since she likes apples, she spends about 15 minutes warming up before painting, doing a sketch or a quick painting of an apple. I like to warm up too. But after reading her post, I started using an apple for warming up as well. I don’t always use the apple, but I did find that there were more than a 101 ways to describe an apple, and that it’s a very good warm up exercise. I would recommend it for artists and writers alike. Even if you have an idea… and all the more so, if you don’t know what to write about… Take 15 minutes, and just write (or sketch, or photograph) something that’s right there, right in front of your eyes, and you’ll find it’s a great way to get into the swing of things.

one of many apple exercises

In response to my post on Jerusalem, I received a few questions about the wailing wall, which I had mentioned in passing. There is so much I could tell you about the wall. But here’s a quick explanation. The first holy temple of the Hebrews, who are now called Jews, was built around 1000 BCE. That is about 3000 years ago. It was a very central institution in Jewish life, and provided religious, psychological medical, and cultural services for our people. It was destroyed during a war with Iraq, and was rebuilt again after some 70 years. And then the second temple was established for another 550 years in the same place.

we say, some people have a heart of stone… and some stones have heart.

About two thousand years ago, it was destroyed again, by the Romans, who conquered our country and then burnt the temple. Most of the Jewish people at that time were forced into exile, and left our country, leaving a small community behind.

holding up the scroll of the bible, in an indoor synagogue at the wall

All that was left of the temple, was one wall built of massive stones, that weren’t cemented together. The building techniques of the time were so fundamental that they did not use cement to keep the stones together. For the last two thousand years, Jews have come to the wall to pray… and some have written little notes and pushed them between the stones as messages to god. But when thinking about what had happened to the temple, and to the Jewish people, since the temple was destroyed, many visitors couldn’t help but cry out loud. This has been so common, that the wall got the name, ‘wailing wall’. Nowadays, the modern state of Israel prefers to call it the ‘Western Wall’. Our prophets have assured us that the temple will once again be rebuilt.

a soldier uses the shoulder of a friend, to write a little note to god

Music was a very important part of the temple, and there was an entire floor reserved for the orchestra, and the music was heard all around when they played. For hundreds of years after the destruction of the temple, Jews refrained from playing music as a sign of their grief.

playing jazz at noon in the old city, not far from the wailing wall

This evening, we begin celebrating the holiday of Pentecost, which marks the day on which we received the laws and precepts of our religion. As always, our day begins in the evening, and carries through the night, and the following day until the next evening. Pentecost is one of the three holidays of the year, in which Jews would make a pilgrimage from all over Israel, to visit the holy temple. Those of you who are interested in the holiday, can find other posts I wrote about it here:

My best wishes to all my readers and friends.


69 responses to “writers’ block and the wailing wall

  1. mirjamfromthemountain

    I just created my wordpress account and am up for my very first blog I ever wrote. This is exactly what I needed to read. Thank you for sharing your tip when having a writing block. Best wishes, Mirjam

    • I am glad to hear that you enjoyed reading the post. I checked out your blog, but found it empty so far. Wishing you all the luck starting out, and I look forward to reading something you’ve written soon.

  2. As always . …. you offer a treat for mind and spirit. A good way to tackle the problem of writer’s block with a familiar or favorite image. . Mine is to always stop at a point where I know the very next scene or dialoque … in the middle of a sentence if necessary. For larger projects, it works for me like a charm, But to start off a new one …. well I’m going to find some “apples” to ease my way in.
    And your wonderful history of the Wailing Wall … truly inspiring. Tenacity and faith join together to preserve something truly profound and precious. The soldier writing his letter to God while balancing his paper on his comrade’s back is a memorable and touching image.

    Natually I couldn’t resist your other links. Ruth has personal appeal for me because I converted to Hinduism after my marriage. And adored my mother-in-law.

    And in your account of the Pentacost I see one of the wisest approaches to God’s law I have ever read. That it’s up to us to accept what we can. The absence of judgment is beautiful …. a calm acceptance of everything unfolding as it should.

    Thanks so much Shimon.

    • You’re very kind, Nikki. Thank you so much. Glad you liked it. Of course, not everyone suffers from writers’ block. And I believe that there are many who’re never troubled by finding themselves without something to say. But I got to thinking about it after reading a couple of posts on the subject. It’s very good to hear about love for a mother-in-law. It seems to me that we hear to many stories of the other side of the coin. Very glad you enjoyed the post and the links.

  3. I will have to take your tip about the apple and see how it works for me, see if it brings the words or the ideas. Thank you for sharing that Shimon

    • You seem like the sort of woman who gets right down to business, Claire. Hard to imagine you suffering from writers’ block. But if so, let me hear how the apple exercise works for you. Always a pleasure to share.

  4. “we say, some people have a heart of stone… and some stones have heart.” how true… hit me once again.
    About apple, this is amazing, I noted too, Thank you dear Shimon, how nice to read you, love, nia

    • So glad you enjoyed the post, Nia. And I know you’re very sensitive to what’s around you. And it’s always a great pleasure to share with you.

  5. Very interesting idea. I suppose it’s all about focusing on one thing to free our minds of unwanted or intrusive thoughts that might get in the way of writing. One to try! Thank you for sharing once again.

    • There are so many things that can get in our way when we’re trying to compose. Sometimes we have too many thoughts in our head… sometimes we’re distracted by other things… by sounds on the radio… by thoughts of what we have to do today… or by conflicting desires. But once we start working, it’s so much better. Thank you for your comment, Fatima.

  6. Thanks for the history. Meanwhile, I hope this is the proper greeting: Chag Shavuot Sameach.

    • You’re greeting was just right, Frank. And yes, We’ve been around so long… there’s a lot of history… Hope you’ve had a very beautiful week, with lots of wind and chocolate.

  7. Great advice about the apples and writer’s block.

  8. Thank you, Shimon; I appreciated the review of the Wailing Wall’s deep significance to my Jewish friends; a blessed Pentecost to you…and maybe I should also say, an apple a day keeps blockage at bay. 🙂

    • Many thanks for a very humorous summary of the post! It was a fine holiday, and now I have a very short week, till it’ll be Sabbath again. With life this good, I’m smiling all the time.

  9. Shimon, thank you once again for sharing your world with us. I am going to try the apple trick too :-).

  10. Oh, I do like the apple trick! And a very interesting piece on the Wailing Wall – it seems the older I get the more interest I find in history.

    • Yes, history is a fascinating subject. When I was young, I loved to study it, and I remember thinking that much of what I read about could never happen again… I’m talking about western history now… And to my great surprise, as the years passed, I realized that we go through a lot of the interesting chapters over and over again.. But history gives us a very good perspective of what goes on in this world. Thanks for your comment, shoes.

  11. Wonderful post as usual Shimon. Have a wonderful holiday.

  12. Ah yes….Janet is such a treasure and so talented too!

    I really enjoyed finding out more about the wailing wall. I wonder if the wall retains some of the vibrations of all the millions of people who touch and visit it….some atmosphere must be left in the stone. I love the fact people put little notes in the cracks between the stones. I loved the pictures of the beautiful stones in the wall. They look enormous!
    Have a wonderful holiday Shimon.xxxx

    • Yes, the stones are very large. It gives us a notion of how immense and impressive the building was in its time… though everything is described and written down. We have a very detailed history that covers a very long time. As for the wall, I really don’t know how sensitive it is… but there have been times, when I was there, that I felt very aware of the generations of my people who directed their longings towards that specific place… and it was overwhelming. The holiday was wonderful. Thanks so much for your comment, Dina.

  13. Dear Shimon,
    I love the history you share with us, and today’s post on the wailing wall–no one could have said it better. I also like the warm up exercise. It is good to be reminded that you certainly don’t have to travel farther than your living room or backyard to find good subject matter. Best wishes for the holiday to you and your family.

    • Very sweet of you to say so, Naomi. I was a great admirer of Andre Kertesz, the photographer who is was most known for his fascinating black and white photographs. When he grew old, he had an exhibition of Polaroid color photos that were all shot in his little apartment… and it was just amazing… and very different from all of his previous work. You’re right, we don’t have to go far to find inspiration.

  14. Shimon, thank you for this interesting post. I am grateful for you to share such important pieces of your heritage and history. Blessings to you and your family at your celebration of Pentecost.

    • It is my pleasure, Ann, to share my view of this world from my unique place in it… and to read the many things that others tell from their perspective. How amazing it is to share points of view, and bits of knowledge… and see the pieces come together, and know a bit more of our common world. Thanks you very much for your comment.

  15. A very interesting post and most enjoyable read as ever Shimon!

  16. Another interesting post – many thanks for posting.


  17. A good, very concise and simple explanation of the wall. I read about the demonstrations there last Friday. What is going on there? Well, I know, but how to resolve the shameful conflict?
    Hog Sameach!

    • Thank you for your comment, Bumba. I can understand your question too, about the demonstrations… and the best I can answer, is that it seems to me that some of us have lost our shame. Perhaps it’s a sign of the time… but in any case, it saddens the heart. Still, we’ll probably find our way past the conflicts within our own society, at least.

  18. And best wishes to *you*.

  19. Thank you so much dear Shimon! There are many different stories told, that’s right… every one of them interesting and special. I know the wall as “Il muro del pianto” (italian of Wailing’s Wall indeed) ad I was told it was built to protect Mount Moriah where the Holly Solomon’s Temple was built… But in the different books I read or mouvies I’ve seen, a lot of fiction try to make it more attractive. Still I lovely place to stay (guess, but we were not allowed to go there)…
    The idea of the “apple’s contemplation” is unusual, I know quite well what’s the “writer’s block”. It happens to me too, from time to time, but to avoid it I take a long stroll in the woods back our home… Or I spend a couple hours caressing our many cats… This, for me, makes wonders!!! Have a lovely holiday of Pentecoste… serenity :-)claudine

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Claudine. Yes, I love a stroll in the woods too, and petting cats… very much! As a matter of fact, my cat herself is something of a writer’s block. Sometimes it irritates her when I write, and she tries to hold my arm and keep me from the keyboard. She has a great capacity for quiet time. But I always enjoy her company. Tourists are allowed to visit the wall, by the way. But you’re right… there are a lot of stories…

  20. Shimon,
    Thank you for the history of the Wailing Wall. I didn’t know much about it except that it is a famous site in Jerusalem. Now I know much more! I also enjoyed your suggestions about artistic blocks, and loved your apple photo! It’s so true…it’s important to warm up before diving into an artistic project – capturing images of something familiar, easy to appreciate and special at the same time.

    • Glad you found interest in the post, Cathy. I’ll have to post some more apple exercise photos. They turn out very different from one another. Most people have a lot of distractions around them all the time, That can get in the way of creative activity. Thanks for the comment.

  21. Thanks for the history of the Wall; and also for the tips on writing and photography blocks. Wonderful post.

  22. Thanks for the tip, Shimon – very useful. I’ve always wondered why the wall was named that way. Your photographs, as always, are great.

  23. Part of the Jewish spirituality which I think is much needed in the Christian church, is the understanding that lamentation is a necessary part of our expression of faith from time to time. Happiness brings blessing, but grieving is an affirmation of life.

    • Our approach is to fully experience both the happiness and the sorrow. There are so many blessings in this world, and in our lives too. And in many ways, the holidays and the days of mourning teach us about the personal choices of all of us, and how we can retain our own individual dignity even when the circumstances around us are overwhelming. Thanks for your comment, Gillyk.

  24. Excellent idea with the apple analogy. I love learning about history of Israel .

  25. My best wishes to you for Shavout, Shimon.

    My first visit to the Western wall was memorable, in that I unexpectedly experienced a spiritual event. It was also memorable that my contemplations were disturbed by a woman using questionable begging tactics. Other women, who were very obviously praying, some reading from the Siddar, were also approached by her.

    My second visit was plagued with women shouting into cell phones; the fact that my ears were close by, mattered not a jot. The area at/against the wall was crowded, so, it was difficult, nay, impossible, to find a relatively quieter spot. Someone told me that some of the people using phones were taking instructions about prayers to be said or left at The Wall. I found a piece of paper in my bag and wrote on it. Tucking my own words quietly into a crevice, where I hope they would remain undisturbed, I left.

    Do these things happen on the men’s side of the wall?

    You appear to use and eat an apple that would be to my own taste. 🙂

    • Actually, I like red apples as much as the green ones… but my mother always used to prefer the green. Yes, we are very tolerant of beggars in our city, and usually don’t bother them, even when they bother us. I personally haven’t experienced cell phones at the wall, but it doesn’t surprise me that much. Sign of the times… Though there is a bit of a difference between the way things are conducted in the men’s and women’s sides of the wall. It seems we’ll soon have still another compartment, for men and women together. I myself have never left a note at the wall, so you see, menhir, you’re ahead of me in certain experiences.

  26. I hope that you enjoyed your celebration of Pentecost. Thank you for offering us both history and photos of the wailing wall.

  27. What a beautiful, spiritual place Shimon. It is easy to understand how one can be overcome with emotion when there. Enjoy spring and behave 🙂

  28. “…I myself have never left a note at the wall…” you are surprising me … – maybe today? Christians have Pentecost, but what are YOU practicing today (if I’m allowed to ask)…

    • I doubt that I ever will. It is enough for me to appreciate the world… and at the good moments, to try and understand a little of it. I feel no urge to give advice to god, or to ask for favors. As for today, it is an ordinary Sunday for us; the start of a new week.

  29. I love it when you share photographs and information of your country, culture and religion. Such things are taught best by one who lives there because your love for them is conveyed in your words! I always come away from your blog with new understanding and appreciation.

    • I am so glad you enjoyed the post, Josie. It is always a little difficult to know how we ourselves seem in the eyes of others, and difficult too, to discuss out own personalities. When talking about my culture and my people, it’s a bit of the same. I’m glad you were able to get the feeling of it.

  30. I very much liked the concept of starting with an apple or some such thing as a warm-up exercise. I will remember that, as sometimes when I sit down to write the words at first feel clumsy. Great idea!

    • Yes, artists and creative people always learn from one another, and so it was a pleasure to share what I had learned from Janet on this subject.

  31. This post got me wondering if some people approach the Wailing Wall intending to leave a note, only to be stymied by writer’s block. Maybe they have apple vendors there, for just such an occasion?

    My daughter was there a few years ago, but I don’t think I ever saw pictures of the Wall. I had no idea how massive the stones are.

    • Yes, building was taken very seriously in those days, before the computer. And builders usually hoped that their work would last forever. I haven’t hear of ‘writer’s block’ when it comes to notes to the wall. People usually feel a great freedom and sense of intimacy when writing to god. And since prayer is universally accepted as a good means of communication by believers, it’s interesting that a select few seem to prefer writing it down. It could be that these people are similar to those who prefer blogging to spending an hour on the phone… Thanks for your comment, Charles.

  32. While catching up with your blog, I am delighted to see that you have mentioned ‘The Apple Exercise’ in this excellent post. It delights me to know that you are using an apple for your warm up exercises.

    Interestingly, I was just talking about the importance of warming up yesterday when giving a workshop in London.

    Thank you so much, Shimon….your writing is always inspires me:)x

    • Well, I did like to warm up even before I learned your wonderful exercise, and had a few of my own, which I still use to this day. But I so enjoyed watching your exercises that I included it in my own work routine, and so have the pleasure of thinking of you often when getting to work. So glad that you enjoy my writing. It is always a special pleasure to hear from you, Janet.

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