I am sorry for not finishing up my Israel blogs sooner, but there have been so many world events going on recently. It is terrible to hear about all the horrible issues going on around the world and even in our own country today in Orlando.
My birthright trip had just been to Tel Aviv and we could have easily been at that market the day of the shooting. Any kind of shooting, no matter where or who is involved, is a tragedy. For these reasons, writing a blog about Israel was a difficult task for the past days.
To continue where I left off…
We first arrived in Jerusalem after our desert canyon hike. We were given an amazing view of the city from Mount Scopus Overlook.
The next day we headed to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum. Since this day would be so emotional, we had a group discussion the night before. People shared wonderful and tragic stories about the Holocaust, including family member’s personal stories and just their thoughts on the visit. At the end, we all came to the conclusion that this event was a catastrophe. As we have learned in history classes, history tends to repeat itself. The best thing we can do in this generation is to have these discussions and educate everyone on how these events came to be. I saw a quote on a door when I was touring Auschwitz that read, “the one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.” (George Santayana) This essence of this quote stuck with me as I visited Yad Vashem and talked with my peers.
After the Holocaust museum, we hiked to Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery and which is located right next to Yad Vashem. It is named after Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, and his tomb is at the top of the hill. This was again a very emotional experience, since Israeli fallen soldiers are buried here. One of these memorials is called the Victims of Acts of Terror Memorial which commemorates all the victims of terrorism in Israel from 1851 until today.
The days before we had spent hiking and swimming in the dead sea, so it was an eye opening experience to learn more about the history of Israel. We had felt so safe our entire trip and as I mentioned before, education and remembrance are the most important things.
The next day we started with a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter and learned about the Old City. I have traveled quite a bit, but as I said earlier, there is something so crazy about walking the streets of the Bible. These streets date back to over 2000 years ago. No matter your religion or beliefs, there is something so incredible about that.
The end of the tour was at the Western Wall, or known as The Kotel or Waling Wall. The wall is an ancient limestone wall, but is only a relatively small segment of a far longer ancient wall. It was originally erected as part of the expansion of the Second Jewish Temple by Herod the Great, which also resulted in the natural, steep hill known as the Temple Mount.
The term Western Wall and its variations are mostly used for the section traditionally used by Jews for prayer, and it has also been called the “Wailing Wall”, referring to the practice of Jews weeping at the site over the destruction of the Temples.
A recent tradition that started was to place notes inside the wall. Most are either prayers or wishes, since this is one of the holiest sites for most religions.
Visiting the wall was again a very emotional experience. As I have mentioned before, I am not a religious person, but there is a type of feeling you get by being there that is unexplainable. I went in first to touch the wall. The stones on the bottom are smooth, while the ones a couple feet up are rough. This is because so many hands have touched the bottom part of the wall. That is when it all hit me. This wall has been standing for 2000 years. People, just like me had been passing it and touching it. It is almost as if the wall holds all the secrets of all the people that have ever been near it. Then, I looked around at all the other people praying, from all different backgrounds, ethnicities and religions. It was ironic to me because we were all praying for the same thing, peace. Every religion preaches love for one another, and there we all were, standing in the same spot, just praying for peace. I thought about how the day before, we had visited the Holocaust museum and the tombs of fallen soldiers. Now, as I am back home there are even more tragedies happening everyday. It all takes me back to that one moment when my hand left the wall and I felt this feeling of oneness. I was scared that it would never come again. People would continue to fight and hate, but in that one moment, I watched the world in perfect harmony. It may be far fetched, but it is the only way I can describe the experience.
I left my note in the wall and stepped back to look at it in full. It is mind blowing to even think that you are across the country, staring at the wall that is so infamous.
The only thing that really stood out to me is that the wall is divided between men and women. Women are given a smaller section than the men to pray in. There are many religious reasons for this, but for me it was a bit uncomfortable. Some people argued that they felt a female power experience, while others felt as I did. I will not go on about my opinions, but just wanted to point that out.
Later that night we prepared for our last Shabbat as a group. This time, the harmony of our group was so different. After only 10 days, we had become so close and it was great to see everyone smiling together after such a long and hard 2 days.
The last day we had the option to attend synagogue. I typically do not attend services, but I decided that it was such an interesting opportunity to see a service in Israel. We went to an orthodox service, where the men and women were separated. First of all, this is so different than what I am used to. There was a wall in between where they faced each other and a tiny lace cloth. You could see though the lace, but not well. It was frustrating to me because it was so different from what I know.
After we visited the Israel museum. I took a picture of the Ahava sign, which means love in English. I found it awesome since the original love sign is in Philly, my hometown.
Then, we were back at the hotel, since everyone had to be ready to leave for the airport at 6am. Since I was extending my stay, I did not need to be up and ready, but of course I was going to say my goodbyes. Also, we had to be out of our rooms.
That day we walked around Jerusalem some more since our flight to Athens, Greece was not until 7:30pm. The next blog posts will be all about my time extending in Greece.
I know that this post was a lot more serious than my past blog posts. It was difficult to share and I hope that you can feel what I felt. This world is full of hatred and if only we could love one another, this world would find peace. Walls would not separate people, but bring them together.
Until next time, please enjoy this photo of me asleep on a giant apple sculpture in the Israel museum…