- Posted February 8, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
The written word: Your personal essays
Jerusalem, I won't forget you
Thursday 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 my Taglit-Birthright group’s trip to Jerusalem.
However, our entrance to the holiest of the holy cities was delayed a bit, as the city was experiencing snow! It was the first time the city had really seen snow since 2003, and the fact that I saw snow in Jerusalem is something so unique that I can tell it to the grandchildren some day. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Before Jerusalem, we stopped by the city of Tsippori, which is home to 2,000-year-old ruins. It wasn’t until Einat, our tour guide, said this right here is where it all began for the Jewish people and was the home of all of our ancestors that I began to feel a connection. This experience cannot be taken for granted; there are millions of Jews who never had and will never have the opportunity to visit the land of Israel.
People can talk all they want about how religious and spiritual of a place Israel and Jerusalem can be for Jews; it is. There is a feeling of pride and accomplishment and awe that can never be matched. It’s also a feeling that cannot be fully described or understood until you have experienced it for yourself.
We loaded the buses and were told we would drive into Jerusalem, though it may take awhile due to the snow. As we drove along, all of a sudden, the grassy hills turned to snowy hills. We started to see more buildings. We entered Jerusalem, and the song “Jerusalem” by Matisyahu played on the bus’s stereo system. The smile on my face literally spread from ear to ear. My heart filled with all my ancestors who led me to that moment – the moment I not only stood in the promised land but entered the holiest city on earth.
When I entered Jerusalem, I felt a connection to Judaism, to my roots, to the land and to the millions of Jews who have lived around the world in all time. This was for me, this was for my parents and this was for all those who never had this opportunity. Thousands of years after being exiled from the land, the Jews are still here, and it truly is remarkable.
I may be only 19, but this was a moment my ancestors could only dream about. All the odds have been stacked against the Jews for practically our whole existence, but our determination was unmatched and allowed for moments like this. Arriving in Jerusalem evokes a different feeling or reaction in everyone, and this was my moment. And no one can take that away from me.
On Friday, we visited the Old City in Jerusalem, but before that, our group met the eight Israeli soldiers who would be 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.
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.
I 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.
We 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.