Hayley Fisch and Becky Porter
It had been a late night on Thursday so by the time our bus began to navigate the curvy road from the kibbutz into Jerusalem many of us were dozing in and out of sleep. But when the bus turned a corner and the skyline of the city was in sight I felt a sense of awe to see what had previously been only pictures and stories. We gathered on an overlook to see the city and learned some history about the land and sights we were experiencing.
We had the opportunity to walk a small, modern mall juxtaposed next to the Old City. We were given some time to shop in some of the stores in the Old City which sold Judaica and souvenirs. As we walked along the cobblestone through Jaffa Gate, we tried a bagel, which is three times the size of bagels in the US, and dipped the bagel in za'tar. This is a mixture of seasonings and is green in color. We bought some za'tar at the Dates in the Village that we stopped at earlier in the trip.
After being able to buy souvenirs, it was time to make our way through security and to the Western Wall. I can still hear the prayers being chanted from the large group of young school boys on the left side of the wall. I was speechless as we approached the much smaller women's side of the wall. I don't know any prayers and I was a bit anxious about the intimate time I was about to have with G-d. So many questions were racing through my mind. What should I say to G-d? Do I just leave my note in any crevice I could find? Did I need to say something? We took a few minutes once a space opened up and placed our hands on the wall. No words came to mind, only a waterfall of emotion. I was happy to be there, with so many other Jews and friends from bus 248. It's been a long time since not only have I been surrounded by so many Jews, but that I wanted to be there! I wasn't being told to be there or that I should be there. The girls regrouped with the guys and we boarded the bus to head for a late lunch at Machaneh Yehuda, an open market. We arrived at rush hour, it was packed with people preparing for Shabbat. It was a sea of sardines and I felt like a salmon trying to swim upstream. A bathroom and food were the first priorities!! We had great falafel for lunch and then we all walked around the heavily crowded market checking out the fruit, bakeries and other goodies.
Our hotel was located near Yad Vashem in an Orthodox neighborhood. We dressed for Shabbat and then had a bus activity to begin to welcome Shabbat. After our bus group spoke about the meaning of Shabbat we joined the other bus as well as a Birthright alumni leadership trip bus group outside to light the Shabbat candles. We had the opportunity to hear the siren sound the beginning of Shabbat to the whole city of Jerusalem. One of the most prominent philanthropists in the Jewish community, Lynn Schusterman, was there to welcome us to Jerusalem as we all welcomed the Sabbath. We were given three choices for Shabbat- Orthodox service, Carlebach service with lots of singing, or a discussion about why you choose not to go to a service. We both chose to attend an Orthodox service at a synagogue down the block from our hotel. For most of the service we were the only women present and helped each other find our places in our siddurs. It was a totally new experience for us, to sit behind a curtain, not able to see the rabbi or male congregants. We found meaning in this new experience and felt excitement when we could find our place without the aid of any English. After the service we joined our trip mates for a festive Shabbat dinner. We sang prayers, ate a delicious meal, talked with staff and members of the alumni leadership trip, and danced! Boy did we sing and dance! Everyone clapped and sang and danced to various Jewish songs. The feeling of celebrating Shabbat with so many other young Jewish professionals was warming and inspiring. Everyone had such a great time singing songs from past camp days, and for some they were learning the songs for the first time. It really brought us together. We were given some time to change out of our Shabbat clothes before an oneg to end our night.
Every Passover we proclaim and hope for "Next year in Jerusalem" and for this Shabbat we were in Jerusalem, having the opportunity to experience what so many of our ancestors have dreamed and prayed and fought to experience. We felt blessed to be in Jerusalem for this most special day.