By: Joshua Serota,
Our fifth day in Israel through Mayanot Taglit-Birthright began in Tel Aviv. After an early breakfast we loaded the bus and headed towards, arguably the holiest city in the world, Jerusalem. Traveling up into the mountainside and ascending towards Israel's capital, our tour guide Marc gave us a great description of the layout of the land and pointed out what once was a part of Jordan not too long ago. Upon arrival into Jerusalem, we got off the bus to a cold breeze and a buzzing environment. Friday during the day in Jerusalem is packed with last minute shoppers getting what they need to prepare for Shabbat. Luckily for us we got to be right in the middle of it!
We were given a few hours to walk around the most famous market in Jerusalem, the Shuk Machane Yehuda. This market sold every food imaginable, all articles of clothing, and so many gifts to purchase. A lot of us huddled in bunches and made our way through the Shuk, taking pictures, interacting with the store owners, and even buying a lot of goods to bring back home later.
What was most amazing was the diversity in the market and the lack of tension there was associated with that. There were Jewish, Arab, even Iraqi owned stores all in rows and there weren't any problems. It was great to see a city come together for a common goal from all walks of life and not try and diminish each other's potential because of their personal faiths and practices.
We all grabbed lunch, mostly shawarma and pita, before meeting back at our designated meeting point. After everyone had been accounted for we walked the side streets to where our bus was meeting us and drove to our hotel to check in. After putting our luggage down and showering we all met back in the lobby to drive to the Old City for Shabbat. We found a great place to light Channukah and Shabbat candles at Kever David before making our way to the Kotel.
We got to the Western Wall and we were all in awe of the beauty and serenity of the whole place. We sang and danced and prayed with thousands of other practicing Jews of all different backgrounds. After Shabbat services we each had our chance to touch the wall and have a personal prayer. Never did I think that placing my hands on a wall and wishing for personal satisfaction would make me as emotional as I was at the Kotel. Nevertheless, after we had all finished we met up with the women and walked through the streets of the Old City to a quiet area to make Kiddush. After that we began our journey back to the hotel, about an hour walk more or less.
Afrer a traditional Shabbat Dinner we had a farbrengen talking about life, love, and everything in between. Most people stayed for some time. A few of us including Ari, Aviv, and myself actually stayed up with Rabbi Lipskier until 4:00 am.
Our sixth day on Saturday began different for everyone. We had no morning activities so waking up for hotel breakfast was skipped by most of us in the group so we could sleep in instead. Our first activity was actually very awesome. We all were split into different groups of 3-5 and went to a host family for Shabbat lunch. I had an awesome experience getting the chance to have lunch with Rabbi Lipskier and the founder of Mayanot and his family and friends. After our lunch in the city we walked back to the hotel where we had a "Stump the Rabbi" session. We could ask him anything we wanted and he promised to answer to the best of his ability based on traditional Jewish practices.
Shortly after a great session with Rabbi Lipskier we were joined by a few men from the Gift of Life foundation for Bone Marrow research. We learned the benefits of being a match for someone suffering from Leukemia and other deadly blood diseases bone marrow is used to cure.
We lit Channukah candles in the lobby of the hotel before heading back into the city for a shopping night on the town. The streets were packed with other Taglit groups and plenty of young Israeli men and women enjoying their Saturday night out! We all got pizza for dinner and shopped for a few hours, ending in a harmonious rendition of classical American and Jewish songs all stemming from our group member Zach's guitar skills.
To say the least, this was by far the best Shabbat I have ever celebrated and I am sure many other birthright kids would agree with me. I hope to spend many more Shabbats here in Israel with an amazing Jewish community! Hag Sameach