This article explores the role of sacred places and pilgrimage centers in the context of contemporary geopolitical strife and border disputes. Following and expanding on the growing body of literature engaged with the contested nature of the sacred, this article argues that sacred sites are becoming more influential in processes of determining physical borders. We scrutinize this phenomenon through the prism of a small parcel of land on the two sides of the Separation Wall that is being constructed between Israel and Palestine. Our analysis focuses on two holy shrines that are dedicated to devotional mothers: the traditional Tomb of Rachel the Matriarch on the way to Bethlehem and Our Lady of the Wall, an emergent Christian site constructed as a reaction to the Wall. We examine the architectural (and material) phenomenology, the experience, and the implications that characterize these two adjacent spatialities, showing how these sites are being used as political tools by various actors to challenge the political, social, and geographical order.
In that transformative enterprise, it is enough for Rabbi Schechter that some of us live in Zion, building an Israeli culture that wrestles with issues of power and democracy, pluralism and inclusion; one that fights for social services to the poor and fights against inequities for all of Israel’s inhabitants. It suffices for Schechter that some of us are in Israel as sh’liḥim (representatives) of an entire people.
But for Schechter and for me, Jewish significance is not restricted only to what happens in Israel. The Jewish people are a living people everywhere we are, and we retain the obligations of a living people to assert ourselves in the fullness of our humanity, everywhere. For those of us who choose to live throughout the Diaspora, we have no less an obligation to re-acculturate Jewish life, to make Judaism a living language and a rhythm and a way of being, to make it a pathway toward justice among all peoples, to be able to feel a sense of harmony and identity with religions and cultures not our own, and to feel a solidarity with our own people—wherever they are.