When I was 16, my parents sent me on a teen tour to the West Coast. For 20-something days I spent a majority of my time on a bus, seeing every possible sight in California, Utah, Nevada, and Arizona—to say the least, sleep and downtime were foreign concepts. However, my teen tour days have apparently followed me all the way to the Middle East. Unbeknownst to me, when I applied to Tel Aviv University’s Overseas Program (OSP), I was also signing up for another teen tour.
That being said, OSP took my program on an all-inclusive (minus lunch) day trip to Jerusalem. Like any adventure jam-packed with one-too-many activities, we were scheduled to leave at 7:30 a.m. So after seven snooze alarms and a lot of loud music to wake us up, my friends and I we’re finally out of bed and ready to explore Israel outside of Tel Aviv.
After a 40-minute bus ride we arrived in Jerusalem at the Mountain of Olives,an ancient cemetery condemned by the Prophets for glamorizing the graves of the deceased. Overlooking the Old City walls and the Dome of the Rock, it was the perfect starting point for the trip; it was an aerial view of what was to come, to say the least. From there, we headed to one of the first neighborhoods settled outside of the Old City. The original residents were paid to live there, with the founders hoping that more settlers would eventually follow suit and move outside the Old City walls. After a quick walk through the neighborhood towards the original windmill, it was time to move on to the Shook (yay!).
Unlike the Shook in Tel Aviv that somewhat resembles a flea market, the one in Jerusalem is filled to the brim with fresh produce and meat, homemade pasta, and every treat imaginable—it’s essentially a labyrinth of food, cheap jewelry, and kippahs. I decided that this would be the perfect time to have my first official Israeli falafel sandwich (yes, I know I should have already eaten one seeing as I’ve been here for four weeks). I honestly have no words for how amazing it was. How can anyone go wrong with falafel, French fries, hummus, and eggplant all wrapped in a warm and fluffy pita? Fortunately, however, that was only the beginning of my tour de binge eating. Thanks to my friend Joey, I was also on ahunt for the bakery Marizpan, and lucky for me and my stomach, I successfully found it. I’ve always been a fan of chocolate rugelach, but Marizpan’s gooey, sticky, and fresh out of the oven rugelach was legitimately life changing. To quote Rihanna, I found love in a hopeless place (I really wish I wasn’t being serious here...).I don’t think I’ve ever been more thankful for a long walk back to the bus after leaving the Shook, otherwise there's a high possibility that I would’ve needed to be rolled out of the this country come June.
Our next stop was the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. I’ve toured the Capitol in Washington, D.C. countless times, and as someone interested in politics and the workings of the government, I’ve always enjoyed what I learned and saw. However, I was found the Knesset to be even more appealing and interesting than Congress. The Knesset is setup similar to the floor in the Senate, but manages to add touches are Israeli culture throughout the room. The desks and chairs of the members of Parliament are designed to resemble a menorah. In the middle, where the Shamus would be, sit the smaller political parties, and the further you move out, the larger the party. The wall that the members face is known as the heavenly and earthly Jerusalem, connecting the spiritual and material sections of the Holy City.
From the Knesset, we moved on to the Old City. Since we were on a tight schedule, we quickly navigated through the narrow pathways and stone arches until we arrived at the Western Wall,quite possibly one of the most sacred places in the world. I’ve been to the Wall twice before, but the power and emotion that it seemingly radiates never ceases to amaze me. I still get chills seeing the hundreds of thousands of letters and prayers tightly squeezed into the Wall’s cracks. It’s truly an indescribable place. Although we didn’t have much time there, I know I’ll be back again soon, hopefully for a Shabbat service.
However, like any quintessential teen tour, there is no stopping—the momentum is endless. So from the Wall, we speed walked (literally) through the Arab market to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified and then resurrected. Even though I am Jewish, I’ve always be interested in learning about other religions, and have always been intrigued by the story of Jesus. Even though it was hour 10 of the “teen tour," I was powering through the onset of exhaustion for this specific activity. But, of course, the Church closed early and we were only able to hear more about it from the rooftop—which is still pretty impressive.
Finally, by 6 o’clock, we had reached our final destination: the Tower of David, an ancient citadel built to strengthen the Old City’s defenses. Today, its walls are used as the stage for a light and sound show that depicts the history of Jerusalem. The images, in addition to the music, create an incredible reality in its telling of the story of Jerusalem.
So all in all, in 14 hours, I experienced only a handful of the sights in the Holy City, but it was still an unforgettable adventure. There’s so much to see in Jerusalem that a seemingly endless day of non-stop moving was perfectly acceptable in my book.