After two weeks at my new job at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, I was sent to Israel for a training conference, but was lucky enough to get a few extra days to tour around on my own. I have always been infatuated with the beauty of Israel and the rich connection of the land and people to the history of the Jews. On this particular trip, I got to experience a lot of this firsthand.
I took a day out of my schedule to visit an area about 30 minutes outside of Jerusalem, called Beit Shemesh and some of the surrounding area. Since it was DC’s partnership region, the Jewish Agency helped me get a tour of the area. My guide for the day was Amit, and soon after she picked me up I was treated to a piece of biblical history. We passed by the ancient spot were Samson was born, between Tzorah and Eshta'ol. Samson was one of the heroes in the Book of Judges—think long hair and big muscles. I recognized the names of these places right away because I read the story for my Haftorah when I became a bar mitzvah. It was exciting to find this connection from the words I chanted 20 years ago when I entered Jewish adulthood to my work today.
Further down the highway, Amit pointed out the very hill believed to be the spot were David slung a rock, killing the mighty Goliath. She mentioned a river bed nearby that tour guides will bring groups in order to show them the very spot where he found the rock.
Later in our day, as we were driving back from a winery tour, Amit looked out the window and remarked at the beauty before us. "Many people see a dry and desolate desert here," she said, "but to me it looks biblical."
The following day, I took a half day and walked over to the City of David. From a description in my guidebook, the underground tour of ancient ruins and the journey back into biblical history sounded pretty interesting. It was close to 100 degrees in Jerusalem that day and the idea of getting underground and wading knee deep in the waters down in Hezikiah’s Tunnel, was the perfect way to beat the heat. The 3D movie to open the tour and the archaeological exploration certainly lived up to the hype. What I didn’t expect was how much I was going to take away from our guide. She was young, enthusiastic and had complete faith and love for the place we were exploring together. As she shared the story and history of how King David came to build his palace on what was likely the place we were standing, it was impossible to not be drawn in. I felt like this guide loved the story so much that she wanted nothing more in life than to have the chance to visit King David’s palace and meet him live and in person. He was one of her personal heroes and this place was truly her favorite.
During my stay, I was walking distance from the old city, so I was able to walk there each day. I visited the Kotel a few different times on this trip, more than I ever had before. When I think back to my first trip to Israel over six years ago on Birthright, visiting the Kotel was an inspiring highlight. It was a place where I had a real religious and spiritual moment. This trip was different because instead of touring on a whirlwind schedule, I was able to see things on my own schedule. It allowed me to understand the Kotel and perhaps all of Jerusalem in a different light.
I thought a lot about what it meant for Jews to visit the Wall. Walking up to the Wall and touching it, I thought about the image of Israeli soldiers during the 1967 Six Day War, reaching the wall and touching it for the first time, and breaking down in tears. I found myself thinking less spiritually, less religiously and more about my love for the state of Israel.