Friday, December 26, 2014


Cohort 5 Israel Winter Seminar
Jerusalem- 12.24.14
By Rachel Goodman

On our second full day in Israel, we ventured to Jerusalem, a city that is sacred to many people all over the world.  This trip was especially exciting for me, since it was my first time going there—in fact, it is actually my first time ever visiting in Israel.  I have spent a lot of time learning about Jerusalem in religious school, Diller, and other programs, so was ecstatic to finally get the opportunity to visit in person.  Our first stop was at Mount Hertzel, a military cemetery for soldiers who served in the IDF.  As we walked around, we stopped at several of the graves of influential leaders, including Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Theodor Hertzel.  We talked about their legacies as leaders, and impacts they left on the country, as well as the world.  We also visited the graves of some lone soldiers.  One girl’s we visited, she had made Aliyah from England at the age of 18, enlisted in the army, and died while fighting in a war.  Our tour guide, Eytan, read a letter she wrote to her parents, shortly before she died.  In the letter, she explained to her parents that despite the war, and despite the fact that she might die in battle, she does not regret her decision to make Aliyah.  For once in her life, she did not feel embarrassed to be Jewish, because she was surrounded by other Jews.  She clearly states that she had to redo her life, she would easily make the decisions again.  Her love for the country was so powerful—I was amazed to hear such passion for a country from an immigrant, especially an immigrant who had only lived in the country of a year and a half.  Following this part of the tour, we met with two people from an organization called “The Lone Soldier Center” Chaya and Josh.  They were both “lone soldiers” which means that they were both soldiers in the IDF from different countries.  After his service, he began to working at the Lone Soldier Center, and currently holds a high position there now.  Chaya, from Acton, MA, is currently a soldier.  She came to the program dressed in her uniform.  Chaya told us what it is like to be a lone soldier in the IDF—how she must juggle her service and a full time job.  She explained to us the role of the Lone Soldier Center in her life: it helps her with all of her responsibilities, and gives her extra support when it comes to making large decisions, such as choosing to work, paying bills, and more.  It was very interesting to hear her story, especially because she grew up very close to where the Boston fellows are from.  Both Josh and Chaya stressed that it is not easy to be a lone soldier, however as Chaya said her friend explained it: “It was the best experience that I would never want to do again.”
Next we headed to Machane Yehuda, a market in Jerusalem.  There, we had some free time to explore and try all of the fresh fruits and vegetables.  I walked around with some friends, and we bought fruit, spices, and gifts for our families.  Both my American friends and Israeli friends insisted that I try "halva" for the first time, a sweet sesame treat.  It was exciting to try something new and different from my own culture.  When it was time to leave, we were all sad because there was so much more of the market that we wanted to explore.  When I come back to Israel in the future, Machane Yehuda is definitely a place I would like to visit again.
Finally, we headed to the Old City to tour and visit the Kotel.  When we entered, I was taken aback by the beauty.  The buildings were old and detailed.  The views were spectacular.  I couldn’t believe I was actually there.  Eytan took us around the city, and explained several important events that happened in different places.  He talked about the city before Israel became a state, as well as events that took place after 1948.  As we walked around, I saw lots of young children running around by themselves—it was interesting to see, because typically in America, children are usually accompanied by their parents in public places.  This was one of many cultural differences I have noticed while in Israel.  Finally, we arrived at the Kotel.  This was the place I had been looking forward to all day.  Whenever I think of Israel, this is the picture that races to my mind.  Seeing it in person was amazing—I could not believe I was actually there.  We split up into boys and girls, because men and women are separated when vising the Wall.  I approached it with several friends, and had to wait a while to reach the wall.  When I finally got there, I touched it, and put in several notes written by friends and family at home.  I was amazed at how many notes had been put into the wall, and thought about how many people had been standing in the same spot as me, taking in the experience of being at the Kotel.  At that moment, I felt very connected to the Jewish people and community.
Our last stop was Ben Yehuda Street.  After a long day of touring, it was nice to just hang out, get dinner, and shop for souvenirs.  People ate everything, from Shawarma to pizza.  Finally, we boarded the bus and headed back to Tel Aviv to spend the night.  Now, as I am writing this, I am surrounded by Israelis and Americans singing and laughing together.  It feels great to finally be reunited as one Boston-Haifa cohort, and there is absolutely no place I would rather be.

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