Let me ask all of you a question…
“If you could travel to any one place in the world, and price wasn’t a concern, where would you go and why?”
Think about it for a minute.
I’ll bet not many of you answered with: “I want to go to Israel and visit the Holy Land”, did you?
It’s almost Christmas, so I feel a bit compelled to tell you all about my recent visit to this sacred spot in the Middle East, and why you might also want to experience it someday yourself…
Most spontaneous trips I make in my life are within driving distance of my house in North Carolina. One time I actually drove to Miami on a whim, now that was pretty nutty. So you can imagine my surprise when one of my colleagues invited me to get on a plane and fly to Israel in two weeks. He was visiting family there and working remotely. Our conversation went something like this:
Colleague: “We have some business that could be done over here in a couple weeks…meetings with doctors and what not. You have so many frequent flyer miles that your flight would essentially be free. Why don’t you jump on a plane and help me out over here?”
Me: “Um, really? Israel? In a couple weeks?”
I left my mouth open to say “NO”, because a trip like that would require much preparation. I would need to research the area, find the most comfortable flight, make arrangements with my family, prepare any documentation, and of course read “Hebrew for Dummies”. This was not a trip to be taken lightly, or spontaneously for that matter, but for some inexplicable reason, I hesitated. I mean, this was the trip of a lifetime, and would cost me hardly anything. I had a passport. I was well over 21. My son would be visiting his dad that particular week. What could possibly get in the way?
Me: “Okay, I will book my flight tonight.” And I did.
My entire experience in Israel was amazing and surreal, but I want to specifically write about my adventure in the ancient city of Jerusalem, and the different emotions I experienced throughout my visit there. It was a magical city, indeed, and simply being there had a significantly profound impact that will resonate with me for the rest of my life.
PART 1: The Wailing Wall
Immediately following a breakfast of goat’s yoghurt, wheat bread, and vegetables, we headed out on the Israeli highway towards the sacred city of Jerusalem. I was staying at a friend’s house near the bustling party city of Tel Aviv, which was ironically about an hour from the Holy Land.
The sky was bright blue and free of clouds, and the view coming into Jerusalem was about as picturesque as a postcard. The temperature was a mild 70 degrees, and the mountain gave way to a slight cool breeze.
We parked and walked up to the entrance of the old city. Children lined the sidewalk, begging for shekels and offering gum. I politely refused, not because I didn’t want to give them money, but because I honestly was out of shekels.
My friend would aggressively bark something in Hebrew at the kids, but they continued to briskly walk beside us, batting their big eyelashes and thrusting cartons of gum in front of us. They were so cute and pitiful, I wanted to scoop them up and bring them home with me.
“They should be in school,” my friend grumbled, and continued on.
The old city consists of four separate quadrants: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian. We entered the city at the Jewish side, mainly because I was extremely anxious to visit the infamous Wailing Wall and finally get to place my written prayer into its blessed cracks.
We approached a huge open area, where people were scattered about like ants. Although this area bustled with people of all races and cultures, the vast majority of them were adorned in similar conservative attire. The men wore black suits, wide rimmed hats or yamakas, and their faces were covered in full beards. The women wore long dresses or skirts, scarves, and head coverings of some sort. Most of the couples had three or four children with them, also dressed the same way and obediently walking beside their parents.
It was explained to me that these people represent a small percentage of Jewish culture that is classified as Orthodox or Hasidic, which is a much more conservative and traditional style of Judaism.
The Wailing Wall (technically known as the Western Wall), stood to my far right, and its lower half was covered with hundreds of people, standing in front of it and humbly placing their hands upon it. I was moved at the mere sight of it.
I walked up to get a closer look, and I noticed there was a partition that divided the Wall to separate the men from the women. The men’s side was significantly larger than the women’s side, yet was sprinkled with very few people, while the women’s side was packed with a myriad of ladies and children. There was even a line that formed to get in. I found the uneven division to be somewhat odd, especially since women, by nature, are much more emotional creatures that would be more likely to visit the Wall. That’s simply my opinion, of course.
I draped a scarf around my neck and slowly walked towards my designated side. As I got closer to the wall, I suddenly felt a powerful pulsing energy that I simply cannot describe. It was as if I had just taken the stage at a sold-out Madison Square Garden, and the massive crowd was all cheering in unison towards me. It was a surge of emotion, and it swirled around my body like a million butterflies. I took a deep breath and continued towards the Wall.
It was lined with women, some bowing their heads, others kneeling, some chanting, others crying. I found an open spot and gently went up to it. It was interesting to me how easy it was to get to the Wall. There were tons of women waiting to approach it, but not one person was pushing or shoving or wiggling to get through. Everyone just sort of floated in and out of each other’s way, gracefully permitting each suffering soul the exact time they needed to pray at the sacred Wall.
I looked at the ancient Wall in a blank stare. Cracks ran from top to bottom, and tiny wads of paper were crammed in each and every crevice. I closed my eyes and lifted my hand to touch it. I could hear the countless whispering voices of prayer on either side of me, humming with passionate emotion. I took a deep breath and as I exhaled, I softly spoke my own prayer.
Let me interrupt myself to tell you that I am not a religious person by any means, and I do not label myself with any sort of organized or structured belief system. I am a very spiritual person who believes in our Creator and a divine purpose for every living soul. That being said, I’m not much of a “prayer person”. I save the times I speak to God for when I really need Him. I guess I somehow always felt that He would be more inclined to listen to me if my requisitions were few and far between. This particular prayer experience was as divine and spiritual as any one I’ve ever had in my life. I felt as if my heart expanded in my chest for the brief moment I held my outstretched hand to that Wall, and in one split second I was overwhelmingly convinced in the power of prayer.
I slowly opened my eyes and looked down at my other hand. I opened my palm to expose the tiny folded piece of paper that it held. I slightly panicked when I realized how difficult it was most certainly going to be to find an empty spot to hold my written prayer, but my eyes were quickly drawn down to my left, where a tiny crack remained visible. I wedged my paper into it, and it fit perfectly. I studied it for a moment, as if I needed to mentally let it go, then knew my time at the Wall had come to an end.
I made my way through the quiet crowd and walked up the ramp to meet my friend back in the gathering area.
“Well, how was it?” he asked, as he handed me my belongings.
I just smiled and shook my head.
“Yeah, I know…” he said.