After a much-needed sleep, we were up early to meet our Israeli soldiers! I’d heard from many people that the soldiers would play an integral, meaningful part in our experience, and I can’t put into words a truer statement. Upon shaking hands and introducing ourselves, we sat outside the walls of the Old City and played yet another round of icebreakers. Everyone seemed to click pretty quickly. We entered the Old City – it was so pristine, so lovely, so preserved (albeit, so slippery). We walked through the Jewish Quarter while learning about the various religious sects of Jerusalem. We were led past the Statue of King David, down the Cardo Maximus, and past Huvra Synagogue, amongst many other sites. Our ultimate destination was the Kotel, the Western Wall.

In preparation of arriving at the Wall, our group was told to separate into people who have visited the Kotel before, and people who hadn’t. Obviously, David and I hadn’t. We were told to close our eyes, and were guided to a lookout above the Kotel by those who had been. When we opened our eyes, we were looking at the Western Wall, unobstructed, from a birds-eye view; I was filled with chills at the history that stood before me.

 

It was stunningly pictured against a crystal blue sky, with Temple Mount visible behind it. I couldn’t believe that we were actually there. Approaching the Wall was surreal; I’d written my prayer the night before so that I could take everything in while I was there. The female side of the wall (there is a barrier dividing the men and the women) was crowded, and many were visibly moved to tears while praying at the wall. I went up to the Wall, put my prayer in a tiny crack, and stood back to reflect.

A bit of history: Despite the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the four walls surrounding Temple Mount remained undamaged. What makes the Western Wall so important, as opposed to the other three remaining walls, is the fact that it is the closest to the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Due to this, the Wall has become a place of prayer and yearning for people around the world, specifically for the Jews. Many know of the tensions throughout Israel, and most of the tensions are exhibited at the Western Wall. Eruption of violence at the Wall is and has been common, from before the declaration of Israel as a country to today. This we witnessed firsthand.

After going through the archeological museum next to the Western Wall, we stood around our guide, Itay, and listened as he blasted “Tradition” from Fiddler on the Roof. It was meant as a segue into a group discussion about Jewish traditions within our families. We separated into groups, chatted some, then we heard something that sounded like an explosion. I thought nothing of it. Then we thought we heard gunshots. Still tried to ignore it. Another explosion. More gunshots. But, what was happening? It sounded so close. We all gathered around as a group. Sirens. But really, what was happening? We were safe, but confused. We left the area beside the Wall and moved onto our next destination. We found out later that night that smoke bombs were dropped and rubber bullets fired in response to Muslims dropping rocks on people praying at the Western Wall.

For lunch, we headed to Mahane Yehuda, one of the markets in Jerusalem. It was jam-packed and quite chaotic, but we were on a search for our first schwarma! At last we found a place, and it was amazingly full of flavor.

We had an early night, as it was the beginning of Shabbat. We went down to the candle lighting ceremony, said a prayer, and lit a candle. At some point in the evening, we were informed that three teenagers were kidnapped just south of Jerusalem that day; supposedly Hamas was behind the kidnapping, but there was no concrete evidence. Either which way, it was devastating news and we were praying for their safe return.

It ended up being a late night, as we bonded with the Israelis for the first time in the lobby of our hotel. From that moment, we knew that it’d be a great few days together.

The following day was more relaxed due to Shabbat. We slept in, ate breakfast, then had a fascinating activity. We sat in groups – each group had an Israeli – and discussed various dilemmas (inter-religious marriages, circumcision, trading 1 soldier for 1000 prisoners, the army requirement, etc.). It was so interesting to hear the views of an American on these subject matters versus the views of an Israeli. The rest of the afternoon we laid in the sun by the pool and walked around to see the government buildings. Upon arriving back at the hotel, we gathered into a room for a political seminar on the situation in Israel and the Middle East. Despite being exhausted, Sheldon Shulman, our guest speaker, was captivating. He discussed at large Israel’s relationship with Palestine and Iran. It was truly an intriguing and terrifying discussion. Sheldon spoke so seamlessly and grabbed our attention within seconds. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend seeing him speak.

After dinner, we concluded Shabbat with the Havdallah Ceremony outside. I was chosen to hold the glass of wine in the center, even though I was entirely wearing white I managed not to spill it all over myself! We sang, danced, and hugged. Somehow we ended up on a group hug, which turned into a sing-a-long to Seven Nation Army. Don’t ask me… But, after hugging every person, it actually felt like we were one big Jewish family. We returned back to the hotel for a discussion with Rabbi Eli, discussing the implications of the Holocaust and how it effects each of us.

After a much-needed sleep, we were up early to meet our Israeli soldiers! I’d heard from many… After a much-needed sleep, we were up early to meet our Israeli soldiers! I’d heard from many people that the soldiers would play an integral, meaningful part in our experience, and I can’t put into words a truer statement.

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After 9.5 sleepless hours on the plane, the sun began rising in an astonishing display of blues, oranges, and yellows, getting brighter and brighter under the wing of our plane. Witnessing such a beautiful moment, while approaching the Promised Land, was moving – leaving my eyes welling with tears during the sun’s ascent and our descent. David and I made it, made it to the City of David. As the sun began to rise higher and higher in the sky, it met us eye-level above the clouds. The beams of sunshine began to pierce through the clouds; they reached far away from the distant sun and shone directly into our window. God’s way of wishing us a beautiful good morning.

Upon arriving in Israel, we grabbed our bags, boarded our bus, and took off for Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve located between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. We stepped off the bus at Neot Kedumim and realized just how hot it was in Israel. The landscape was beautiful, and we learned about the history of Israel and it’s connection to the Bible. After wandering around the trails for a while, and muddling our own Isop, we were taken to plant our own trees. David and I each decided to plant two trees, so that our four soon-to-be trees could represent our immediate family. In planting a tree, we were solidifying our roots in Israel.

“Just as I found the world full of trees that my grandparents planted for me, I am planting for future generations” (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a)

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After Neot Kedumim, we headed to the Haas Promenade for a Panoramic View of Jerusalem. It finally felt real as we stared into our destination and saw Temple Mount/the Walls of the Old City in the distance. We stared in awe for a bit, snapped some photos, and played a quick ice breaker with our group.

We left for the airport at 5:45am Wednesday morning and were on-the-go nonstop until getting to the hotel Thursday night, making for quite an exhausting first day. Hitting my pillow at 21:30 had never felt better.

I’m so thankful for all of the people that I’ve met throughout my incredible travels. From the lovely Aussie couple I met in Mendoza, to my awesome car-mates in Bolivia, to the friend I got stranded with in the desert, to my Russian-loving Canadian naturalist, to the crazy Irish lads, to my Ecuadorian “fairy godmother,” to the attractive hang-gliding Hungarians, to the bravest Swiss girl traveling the globe solo, to my Spanish-speaking-saviors in Buenos Aires, to the Couch Surfers in Uruguay, to my three beloved travel buddies, to my favorite circus monkey, to the insanely fun Brasilians (and my number one menina branca)…you guys rocked my world. I couldn’t possibly list everyone I’ve met along the way, but I love you all. 

5 months. 2 continents. 8 countries. 28 flights. 24 busses. 5 ferries. 2 ships. Amazing memories.

I’m so thankful for all of the people that I’ve met throughout my incredible travels. From the lovely Aussie couple I met in Mendoza, to my awesome car-mates in Bolivia, to the friend I got stranded with in the desert, to my Russian-loving Canadian naturalist, to the crazy Irish lads, to my Ecuadorian “fairy godmother,” to the attractive hang-gliding Hungarians, to the bravest Swiss girl traveling the globe solo, to my Spanish-speaking-saviors in Buenos Aires, to the Couch Surfers in Uruguay, to my three beloved travel buddies, to my favorite circus monkey, to the insanely fun Brasilians (and my number one menina branca)…you guys rocked my world. I couldn’t possibly list everyone I’ve met along the way, but I love you all. 

5 months. 2 continents. 8 countries. 28 flights. 24 busses. 5 ferries. 2 ships. Amazing memories.

A few hours later I packed up my things, headed to the airport, and took off for my home country! At the gate, South America sent me off with yet another astonishing sunset. About 8 hours later, in my Dramamine-induced state, I heard the pilot of my plane announce: “Welcome to the United States.” I felt a ping of sadness in my heart as reality began to set in, as I realized that my five-month South American journey was over.

Instead flying straight into New York, I made a pit-stop at Club Med Sandpiper Bay, Florida to join up with the family for our annual Club Med trip. I was going through reverse-culture-shock and trying to resist every urge to speak Spanish, but it was so lovely to see them all again. When I arrived, I dropped my bags and headed straight to trapeze…shocking, I know. Due to the “polar vortex” in NYC I was hoping to get stranded in Florida for a few days longer, but unfortunately my flight was unaffected and it was, at last, time for me to return to reality.

Since we were pretty exhausted on New Year’s Day, we all slept in and headed over to Ipanema Beach for the afternoon. It was so hot that I spent solid 4.5 hours in the water (day 4 and, yes, still 114 degrees). We watched the sunset from the water and it was outstanding, even though we were getting tumbled the entire time. We were at the mercy of the waves, unable to withstand their power, yet enjoying every moment of it.

We woke up early the following morning, our last day, to head to Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Mountain). We took the cable cars up and were greeted with stunning views of the beaches dotted along Rio’s coast. After a bit of looking around, we headed down and went to Santa Teresa – the old part of Rio de Janeiro with cobblestone streets and cutesy shops. Unfortunately the intense heat prevented me from doing some pretty wild hikes, although now I have yet another reason to go back sometime soon! We wandered for a while, stopping along non-touristy parks and beaches, and it was the perfect ending to my South American adventure.

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About

1 girl. 5 months. 2 continents. 8 countries. Study Abroad, Round 2.

NYU Senior in Buenos Aires for Fall 2013.

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