You know, I have the strangest feeling that I've seen that ship before. A long time ago, when I was very young.
I was telling Sarah the other day that I was quite nervous about this trip. Simply for the reason that when I was on Birthright, I was moved to tears every single day and crying for a solid period of 10 months was just not going to fly. I didn't feel as moved this time and attributed it to the fact that I felt home this time around. As a friend put it, "Yeah, you are home, it takes a few days. But you are there... Well, this place is yours. Your own it." Turns out, I was just in shock and extremely overwhelmed. Once I started processing, it was clear that moments of true inspiration are found absolutely everywhere.
The sixteenth b'racha of the Amida is a plea to Hashem that all of our prayers are heard. Our sages have suggested that this prayer (or some variation of it) was cried out by the Israelites while in Egypt. It's also a time within the Amida to recite any individual prayers. Personally, I use it as a time to talk to Hashem, one on one, and let Him know what I'm feeling or what I think I need help with. The past year has been quite difficult in terms of my Judaism and I've always used this part of davening to try and restrengthen my faith. I didn't realize just how powerful those few lines could be until I was standing at the Kotel feeling His presence. Moments before, I could feel the heat of the sun baking down on my skin and the dehydration messing with my insides. Yet at that instant, the only thing I could feel was complete and utter awe while in a state of gratitude. After every struggle and battle, I was finally here- ready to take on the next wave of conflicts.
Thursday was quite the eventful day. Before actually finding the Kotel, I was quite lost wandering around the Old City. I accidentally stumbled across the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and decided to go in. To be completely honest, I had no idea what this place was or what it meant to the people who visited the site. However, you don't need to know the significance of this place in order to appreciate the devotion that other people have for their respective religions. I stood there completely mesmerized watching everyone who passed by. Regardless of the extreme heat, I had such intense goose bumps.
I finally decided it was time to leave and continued wandering around looking for a sign to point me in the right direction. That's when I met Eul. Eul was born to a Jewish mother and Muslim father. He's fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, and works in a scarf store. Eul was willing to sell me a beautiful green scarf at a wonderful discount because he really liked me and could see us being friends. he was upset when I declined his offer to stay for tea/coffee and made it clear that he was not interested in my body whatsoever but truly liked the person that I am. He asked for my number and wanted me to promise him that I would hang out with him. After much negotiating, we agreed that I would take his number and then pinky promised that I would think about calling him. He then gave me directions to the Kotel and I was out of there.
Needless to say, his number has been deleted.
Thursday ended in an attempt to make my way to Tel Aviv. That adventure turned into a bus going the wrong way (or did I get on the wrong bus?), a trip to Charedi town, my extreme awareness of my elbows, and a dead phone. Moral of the story: If a creepy guy tries to sell you a discounted scarf, take it as a sign that you'll need to dress extremely modestly in the near future.
Shabbos was beyond incredible. I finally was able to start meeting other Pardesniks. It's amazing to see all of these different types of practicing Jews coming together as one. I've always been semi self conscious about my practices and didn't really know how to feel about "exposing" myself to a new crowd. This group, without a doubt, has brought about some of the best feelings I've felt in a long time. There's no need to hide any part of my story because everyone here has such an open heart and ability to listen.
I've studied the story of Abraham welcoming guests SO many times when I had to play the part of Abraham and invite "strangers" to unfamiliar territory (thank you Binghamton Hillel). This passage takes on a completely different meaning the second I find myself as the stranger looking to "Abraham" for guidance. It really does mean a world of a difference.