Day two dawned bright and early at 6am. I had intended to wake up earlier than my roommates but they were both way ahead of me! I’m surprised, though; I slept extremely well, and I woke up refreshed and ready to go, nothing like the Night Owl I usually am. We all got ready and went to breakfast, which was MUCH better than dinner.
Apparently Israelis eat sour cream for breakfast, which came as a huge surprise to a lot of the people I was traveling with. They thought it was yogurt! Everything is labeled in Hebrew with very little (if any) English and a lot of us are having to ask our tour guide, medic or one of our midrachim who lived in Israel for help with figuring out what food is what. We all felt no qualms about asking after our tour guide asked some of the women “you know that’s sour cream, right?”
Today we spent the brunt of our time exploring Jerusalem as a group and I was surprised by how much of the history and stories I knew, and even more surprised by how little some of the other members of my groups seamed to know. First we visited the Hills of Judea, which overlook Jerusalem. We spent over an hour there, admiring the view and learning about Jewish lore and legend surrounding Abraham and where it overlapped with history. We all spoke on our expectations for the trip before we arrived and what they were this morning.
I gave voice to my expectation that I had confirmed wouldn’t be met: that as a group for young adults in the 22-26 age range we would be given more autonomy and time/space to explore if we wanted it. Indeed, it often feels like we’re on some sort of high school summer trip, watched closely by (and condescended to by) our chaperones, a feeling that’s been expressed by more than just me. Even with that (small) negative, though, we’re still all thankful to be here. I’m jealous of those who could extend their trip, though, and wish I could afford either the time or the money to do that; I’d love the chance to explore at my own pace and discretion.
Afterward we visited the site of the temple mount, where we learned about both destructions of the great temple, and both constructions. We stood in what was once a mikva, a ritual bath (that some orthodox and conservative sects still use all over the world), as well as niches that once held stalls for money changers and sacrifices. We sat on the reconstructed steps of the main entrance to the Temple in the sweltering Jerusalem heat and learned about how the masses used to pilgrimage to the temple for the three major holidays.
We learned about the process of Midrash, the creation of fictional stories to explain Jewish doctrine as well as history. We learned about the conflict at the time of the second temple’s destruction; leave Israel and temper the Jewish faith in the diaspora, fight the Romans and die for the sovereignty of the Jewish people in Jerusalem, or live as close to Jerusalem as possible in what dignity that could be kept after being kicked out of their homes.
We spoke, briefly on expectations for the Kotel. I think some of the members of my group were honestly surprised that there were two separate sections at the Kotel, one for men and one for women. I knew; like all things in the orthodoxy, men and women are strictly separated by laws made in ancient times, meant to protect the integrity of the man’s legitimacy. Put simply, they are laws that are meant to put women in their place (which is, of course, subservient to men). It’s a disgusting practice.
For those interested in knowing how that’s being deconstructed, I heartily encourage you to research “Women of the Wall,” an organization that’s dedicated to creating a space for equality in the orthodoxy of the Kotel, allowing women to pray as a group and wear tallit and tefilin. They’ve made some truly GREAT strides and I’m very sad that we will be unable to join them on Sunday for their monthly meeting at the Kotel.
And then we went into the Kotel. Well, we were forced to re-route first to a different entrance, where we went through security (that seemed less interested in actually inspecting anything and more interested in getting us out of the way). When we got into the plaza before the sections of the wall, they let us have 15 minutes at the Kotel to ourselves. Fifteen minutes. That was all!
I rushed my way to the wall, worried that it wouldn’t be enough time. I closed my eyes, holding a written prayer in m hand while I put my other hand to the wall.
The world stopped. Like a magnet, my hand was drawn to the perfect place to insert my (somewhat large) piece of paper and then joined my other hand pressed flat to the wall. My breathing was slow, ponderous, and I could feel myself swaying slightly in the heat. Those sensations, though, were almost extrasensory, like they were happening to someone else. I felt this amazing transcendence, like I was being lifted out of my body and into the sky, whirling clockwise so fast that I couldn’t see correctly. I felt drawn into this small space in myself that was confined, but infinite, expanding infinitely with me expanding as well.
I prayed, but I couldn’t get past “eloheinu melach ha’olam” each time. I don’t even know how many times I said the words, just incapable of thinking of anything else to say. It became a litany against the sensations, in support of the sensations, encapsulating the experience. All of a sudden there was nothing. I stopped, I couldn’t do it anymore. I felt peaceful, I felt like I was floating.
“Thank you, God. My mother says thank you.” It slipped past my lips soundlessly and once I finished I couldn’t stop. “May I have the grace to handle the difficulties in life. May I be granted the serenity that I am always striving for. May I be granted the wisdom to temper my pursuits of knowledge.”
And just like that I felt like I was falling, twirling counter-clockwise and wedged back into myself, much too large to fit. I blinked my eyes open, surprised at the sun, surprised at the heat, surprised at the tears streaming down my face. I checked the time. My prayer, which felt like it lasted a lifetime, had lasted only 12 minutes. Twelve minutes left me enough time to explore the tunnel attached to the wall, essentially an orthodox synagogue with tons of prayer books and alters for torah scrolls. As I left to rejoin the group, I was filled with this question, this confusion about what had happened to me. I wanted to eat, I wanted to be alone, I wanted to think.
Luckily, we went right to the center of the Jewish Quarter and were let off to grab food. I found a pizza shop that was very good, and some french fries. I connected to the internet, talked to my mother a bit, and just sat on my question and experience.
Afterward, we met up and toured the Jewish Quarter. The quarter of the city was gorgeous, paved entirely with stones that were so slick from all the people walking and driving on them over hundreds of years that we were regularly sliding around. We learned about the history of Jerusalem and the Jewish quarter in particular, we learned about the intersectionality of Judaism, Christianity/Catholicism and Islam. We watched an Israeli boy do flips and other acrobatics while our energy flagged and it became more and more difficult to follow the stories given to us by our tour guide.
We plodded, slowly but surely, back to our bus out of the Zion Gate, where our guide pointed out the Mezzuzah made from the metals from the bullets embedded in the wall. He talked about the significance of it.
While he did this, though, I popped into a supermarket to get snack foods to carry with me. I need to eat semi-regularly in order for my medications to keep their effectiveness and going from eating breakfast at seven, to lunch at 2:30 meant that I began to develop hives on my legs and arms. Luckily they’re not bad; they’ll fade tonight.
We came back to the hotel to an EXCELLENT dinner, chicken and turkey and great desserts. I managed to find a breast of chicken that was woefully undercooked, of course, but otherwise it was delicious. Afterward, to the chagrin of most of the group, we met to talk about our feelings.
I was surprised. A majority of the group felt nothing or negative about their experience at the Kotel. Here I was, with this experience too big to encompass in words and too profound to describe and there were people who literally didn’t “care.” Who didn’t “feel anything” at the wall! I was blown away. I found myself getting angry, wanting to shout out “what is WRONG with you!?” and I unpacked that. I was angry because I was worried that what they were saying was cheapening MY experience, was an attack on MY experience. Like they were saying my experience was invalid. I kept quiet. I thought. I felt. I’m still sitting with this.
Afterward we talked about tomorrow; our itinerary has apparently completely changed and we’re going to Yad V’Hashem: the holocaust museum. This is one experience that I know will be COMPLETELY different from my middle school trip; they recently remodeled the entire museum. I’m a bit surprised that they changed the itinerary so dramatically; we’re not being told what the new schedule is any more than one day in advance. Annoying, especially for me with my tendency for anxiety when I don’t know the plan.
But I’m oddly OK about it. I dunno. It’s strange.
After that, we played another icebreaker game, much to the annoyance of almost everyone on the trip. We are all very tired and ready to relax and then we had to play a name game? We did it because we had to (and that feeling of being treated like children was quite strong) and then were given the rest of the night free.
Now, dear readers, it’s 10:45pm, and I’m headed to bed. Our bus leaves at 8am again, and our breakfast is at 7am, so I need my rest!