We could not have imagined a better day to seal our Israel journey. Between the planned and the unexpected, the nature and the people, the anticipation and the concern, Jerusalem has revealed itself to us in all its beauty, complexity, and diversity.
We did not begin the day inside the walls the Old City, but rather at the first Jewish neighborhood that was built outside of it, Mishkenot Sha’a’nanim, overlooking Gai Ben Henom, the valley which used to be the border between Israel and Jordan, the old city, as well as parts of East Jerusalem, peeking from behind a different kind of wall.
With our new and ultra-energetic guide Noam, we made our way into the Old City through Jaffa Gate, unraveling one after the other layers of history, tradition, myth, and culture. As we approached a point which provided us with the first glimpse of the heart of the city, the Kotel, Noam asked those of us who are about to see it for the first time to close our eyes, and put our trust in a friend who will safely lead us towards the view point. Seeing them open their eyes was a true awe inspiring moment. As our tradition guides us, we sat to write notes to place in the Kotel.
As we were walking down and past the security check point, we were faced with a dilemma – which Kotel do we go to? The Kotel area is divided into three sections – the men area, the women area, and the egalitarian area. This was one of the most significant moments on this trip in which our progressive set of beliefs came clashing with the ancient Jewish tradition as it appeared right before our eyes. We decided to begin together as a group at the egalitarian section, and then allow the teens to visit the separate areas as well. The conversations that were sparked by that moment began as we were walking towards the Shuk and lasted well into the night. This was what HiBuR is all about.
The plan was to return from the Old City to the guest house, have lunch, and spend the rest of the day
resting, packing, and unwinding. But we are in Israel, and it is our last day
, so plans don’t mean much. Together with Noam we came up with one more thing to make this day
even more unforgettable.
At 8:30pm, as the city began to come to life after the Shabbat, we boarded our bus and headed to a night tour of Meah Sha’arim, an ultra-orthodox enclave right in the center of Jerusalem, home to tens of thousands of Haredi Jews. It is very difficult to describe the hour we spent inside Meah Sha’arim, as too many things, both below and above the surface took place. It is a very safe to say, however, that our teens got to face a Jewish way of life which they would not have been able to anywhere else in the world.
Before heading back to guest house we stopped at the First Station, an Ottoman train station converted into a hip dining and shopping complex for some very well needed down time. At the guest house, we came together to share some last words, thoughts, and feelings. We sat together around the candle light – Americans, Israelis, and staff, for two hours that were filled with laughter, joy, open hearted conversation, and many, many tears.
We are now over the Atlantic heading to Boston, Looking forward to reunite with our families.