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Israel day five: a pilgrim, not a tourist

January 20, 2013

Friday was a day I had been looking forward to for my entire life. I went to a Jewish preschool, I attended Sunday School, I went to Jewish day camp, I became a Bat Mitzvah, I was confirmed, I go to synagogue… All of that culminated in our group’s Friday visit to the Old City in Jerusalem.

Before our trip into the heart of Judaism, our group met the eight Israeli soldiers who would be bonding with us for the next few days. In Israel, men and women are required to enter the military after high school; then, many young people travel for a year or so and then attend a university. It’s vastly different from the typical path in the United States. These eight soldiers were all around my age, and some in the military are even a year or so younger than I am; however, they seem so much older. Young people in Israel focus on living life, being happy and having fun. They cannot live in fear because that would be no way to experience life.

Then, we all took a trip to Mahane Yehuda Market, which was a bustling area full of pre-Shabbat shoppers. It was interesting to see people with their carts that looked like luggage buying items for Shabbat dinner.

Next, we entered the Old City and learned about why it’s meaningful and about the destruction of the Second Temple and about the significance of the Western Wall. We saw and touched things that are 3,000 years old. We took in the area from a tourist’s perspective, but then, Einat brought up something that I took to heart. She said we, as Jews, were not tourists visiting the land of Israel; instead, we were pilgrims returning to our homeland. She said the difference was a tourist walks the land; a pilgrim lets the land walk through him.

JerusalemI found this to be powerful and thought about my time in Israel. Was I simply a tourist walking around with my camera and money belt, checking sites off a list? Or was I more than that: a pilgrim, returning to the land of her people, connecting to her roots, allowing the experience to change her, letting the land walk through her? I knew which one I hoped to be, and I think as I walked up to the Western Wall a couple hours later, the land was continuing to impact my heart.

The Western WallWe reached the Western Wall. The sun was beginning to fall, and a shadow draped the remains of the Second Temple (from 19 BCE). I scribbled down a prayer and word of thanks and walked up to the women’s side of the Wall. I found an open spot and placed my hand on the Wall. I closed my eyes. I thought about what this moment meant for myself and for my ancestors. It’s extraordinary, and I cannot say that enough. I put my prayer in a crevice and said a quick Shehecheyanu prayer for this new and exciting experience. This wasn’t a paper Western Wall in Richmond, Virginia; this was the real thing in Jerusalem. I backed away, careful not to turn my back to the Wall. I looked at it, in awe of its history, its meaning and its persistence.

Later that day, we celebrated Shabbat back at the hotel. We sang songs, ate food and just had a casual evening, enjoying each other’s company. I had done the same thing many times before, but this time seemed different. It was different, after all, for it was in Jerusalem. We were home.

Prayer Touching Western Wall At Western Wall

 

Disclaimer: My birthright trip to Israel was absolutely incredible, beyond words. However, on this blog, I am trying to use words to describe how absolutely incredible it was. I explain what we did each day and attempt to describe the indescribable: how I felt as I traveled around the Holy Land of Israel. It’s difficult to describe some things because it was a very personal experience, but I’ll do my best. In addition, some things are just too deep or personal to comment on in a blog, but if you would like to discuss or go deeper on anything, feel free to contact me. I would love to talk about it.
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