In the midst of the whirlwind that the past 72 hours has been, one thing has become immensely clear: the power that this trip has had in bringing us together with not only each other but also all of our fellow Jews. In that vein, each part of the day played a distinct role in aiding the formation of my newfound sense of identity in Judaism.
After a night of sleep punctuated by enthusiastic middle schoolers and mating cats, we awoke at the crisp hour of 4:30 a.m. and left the Bedouin tent to head to Masada. We hiked up the shorter side of the mountain, summiting in only about 15 minutes and reaping the reward of our labors: the breathtaking sunrise. Between the beautiful views, many photos, and historical tour of the Roman-era ruins, it was easy to visualize the Torah stories at the roots of Judaism laying out in real time. I even wondered aloud during our long and tedious hike down the mountain if what we were feeling resembled in any way the feelings of our ancestors made to wander aimlessly in the desert for 40 years. In both our subsequent visit the Dead Sea and our later tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, it was similarly easy to combine the fragments of the past we saw in front of us with a bit of imagination (something we never forget) in order to envision this world as it was thousands of years ago.
Perhaps the most impactful part of the day for me personally was our visit to the Kotel, or the Western Wall. However, what I found particularly moving about the experience was not necessarily the religious significance of the site itself, but rather the connectedness I felt with the Jewish women around me. Confined to only a crowded quarter of the wall and filled with Orthodox women crying over small prayer books and calming their antsy children, the female section of the wall stood in stark contrast to the spacious male side. It wasn’t until I finished putting my note in the wall, backed away, and saw a little girl of no more than 3 sitting and rocking her infant brother while waiting for their mother to finish her prayer sat the wall that I was struck with another feeling entirely. Despite my annoyance at the injustice of this set-up which impedes female access to and dismisses female faith, I couldn’t help but feel irrevocably bonded to the Jewish women around me who wore their Jewish identity without shame and with the conviction to withstand arbitrary barriers to their faith. And thus, I found an entirely new way of understanding and connecting to Judaism- above all, and especially during a time when misogyny in Jerusalem is at a relative high, the strength and perseverance of Jewish women cannot be overlooked. In summary, I think I speak for us all when I say that I can’t wait to see what else Israel has to teach me.
Today we woke up earlier than I have in my entire life at 4:30am at the Bedouin tents. From there we had a simple breakfast of sweet tea and biscuits. After a lot of that we went to Masada for a steep hike and to watch the sun rise. It was a pretty amazing view but we got hot and hungry quickly. The hike down was windy and took the toll in everyone’s glutes. Next up for us was the Dead Sea, where we all covered ourselves with the mud which was one of the weirdest feelings on my body. We floated in the water on our backs laughing about how we actually floated without trying.
After feeling like turtles for 20 minutes it was time to get ready for Jerusalem. We walked through the old city and leaned about to conflicts that Israel and the Jewish people have been through. It brought out a sense of pride and loyalty to the country. We eventually reached the western wall where we put prayer notes into. It was crazy to see the differences between the woman and men sections and the wall. The men had a much larger portion of the wall and there was also a lot less people in it. We headed back to the hostel then went to Ben Yehuda street for free time. After buying several overpriced souvenirs and eating oversized shwarma it was time to go back to the hostel. Our favorite tour guide from Poland, Peppy, visited us and we were all so happy to see her. After a group picture (of course) it was time for bed early, because the day was so long but also amazing.