On Wednesday, January 11, we spent the day in Jerusalem.
Can we just let that sink in for a minute? I spent the day in the oldest city in the world--the holiest site in existence for the Jewish people. Talk about a surreal, breathtaking experience.
To begin the day, Karmit took us to a spot that overlooked the entire city, and it was beautiful! Here, Josh led us in a short service and Karmit told us all about the city, filled us in about the different areas that we were looking out over, reviewed a little history, and laid out the itinerary for the rest of the day. Then, we hit the ground running and made our way to Temple Mountain, the site on which ruins of the first and second temples remain.
We wound our way through, stopping to look at ancient pieces of the Old City. At one point, we heard a Muslim call to prayer come over the loud speaker. Karmit told us that only Muslims are allowed in certain parts of the area to worship. It's really amazing how such different (or similar, depending on how you look at it) cultures cohabitate in such close quarters when their people have been at war since the beginning of time over that exact piece of land--the piece of land we were standing on.
Finally, we made our way to the Western Wall, also know as the Kotel. After seeing pictures of the Kotel and learning about it since I was young, I had fairly strong predictions of what I would see. I'm sorry to say that what I saw when I stepped off the bus underwhelmed me pretty significantly. The wall itself is small--after all, it's the last remaining part of an ancient structure that was almost completely destroyed. In addition to its size (or lack thereof), there was construction scaffolding surrounding much of the wall, and overall, the scene seemed very unholy. Not exactly what I pictured considering that the Kotel is the holiest site in the world for the Jewish people.
Although it shouldn't have, seeing that the men and women were separate while worshipping at the wall surprised me. Additionally, and also not surprisingly, the men's side was much larger, even though there were far more women than men worshipping at the time we were there. I also have to mention that, generally, Hasidic Jews are very unwelcoming and unfriendly toward Reform Jews. In their eyes, we're not Jewish. Throughout Israel, this was made clear to us by most of the middle-age and older locals, especially at the Kotel. Given their feelings toward us, I was shocked when the old Hasidic men would finish praying, back up from the wall about 30 feet or so, and then answer their cell phones. Just saying...
I was a little unsure of what to do once I got up to the Kotel. All around me, Hasidic women were bowing and praying. Some were even crying--one wailing hysterically. According to tradition, I wrote my prayer on a piece of paper and stuck it in one of the cracks in the wall. Then, I put my hand on the wall, closed my eyes, and just let everything sink in. I can't even tell you what I said or thought about, but I know that it was a once in a lifetime experience that I'm so thankful to have had.
Once everyone had their time at the Kotel, we headed to the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem for lunch. I tried schwarma (chicken or turkey--the locals thought they were the same thing--in a pita with sauce) and then walked around the area to see the sites and shop with some of the people in my group. I bought myself a few things and got a few goodies for some of my favorite people. I also tasted the world's best chocolate rugelach here. Seriously, if you're ever in Jerusalem, stop at Marzipan Bakery. It's SO good.
We spent most of the afternoon touring around Jerusalem and then headed back to the hotel for dinner and hanging out. That night, one of Karmit's friends came to give us a presentation of the local culture and lead us in a craft. We made our own mezuzahs! I'm not a crafty person by nature, and I don't think my mezuzah turned out very well, but it was fun, and I now have a great souvenir from the trip. After the program, we had our nightly meeting during which we talked about our thoughts on Jerusalem. Most of the people in my group had similar reactions to mine about the Kotel. We also talked about what to expect when we met the Israelis who would be joining us the next day. After a little bit of hanging out, we all went to bed to prepare for another fun-filled day.
|Looking out over Jerusalem|
|Group 359 ♥|
|Our fearless leader Karmit|
|Josh leading us in a service before exploring Jerusalem|
|Walking up Temple Mountain|
|Sometimes Karmit likes to get locked in public restrooms and travel back in time :)|
|All of those white stones are tombs. The people buried there paid a fortune to be buried next to Temple Mountain so that they're ready to stand up and walk when the Messiah comes.|
|The Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem|
I know that I went to Israel five months ago--I can't believe it's already been that long--but it's certainly an adventure that I don't want to forget. For this reason, I'm determined to document my entire trip before I embark on my next overseas journey. Read parts one and two of my trip to Israel.