He's an Israeli teen. When I asked him to come put on tefillin he looked at me as if he did not know what I was talking about.
"Why?" he shrugged his shoulders.
"'Why?' It's a mitzvah."
"No, we don't do that." He looked surprised that I would even suggest such a thing.
"But you're Jewish. Is your mother Jewish?"
"Yeah, but we don't do that."
He looked at the tefillin coldly, as if they were something from a different country, a strange culture.
"How old are you?"
"Did you have a bar mitzvah?"
"Sure, right here."
"Did you put on tefillin then?"
"Yeah, but that was the only time. We don't do it."
"You're a Jew and you came to the Kotel for some reason. Are you right handed?"
He nodded, "Yes."
I pulled his arm and pushed up his sleeve. He said the blessing and read the Shema indifferently, zero interest, zero emotion. Unaffected.
When he finished I moved him to the side and said, "Now for the important part. When you do a mitzvah anywhere in the world, and all the more so at the Kotel, it opens up a spiritual opportunity. It's as if the Gate to Heaven opens and Hashem is listening to you with both ears. Pray for your family, for our soldiers, for the Jews in danger. Talk to Hashem."
For some reason he took what I said seriously. He stared up above the Kotel and perhaps for the first time in his life, he sincerely talked to Hashem. He was genuine, but as if he was saying, "Okay I'll look." You can see from the picture how intense he was.
When he finished a few minutes later, he walked back over to me. He was looking down at the ground. Then he looked up,… he looked me in the eye and he melted. He smiled for the first time and said, "Thank you."
He looked like an entirely different person. The cold indifference was replaced with warm kindness. He shook my hand and thanked me again.
I asked him his name.
He said, "Noam."
I asked, "What does Noam mean?"
He answered, "Pleasant."
I motioned to him with both my hands as if saying, "This is really what you really are." He smiled warmly again.
As much as he got out of it… I think I got even more.