Technically my first time at the Kotel was in 2002. I was six years old, and don’t remember much from the experience. I remember it being very crowded, my mother had my brother and I wearing harnesses that resembled dog leashes so that we wouldn’t be separated. But this isn’t the topic of this post. No, my first true experience at the Kotel was during my Birthright trip in 2018.
In the beginning of the trip, we had stayed in and explored Israel’s northern part of the country. We took a bus to Jerusalem on a Friday, and immediately you could tell Jerusalem was different than any other place in the world. The air was crisper, almost sweet despite car fumes and plenty of cigarette smoking courtesy of the locals. It’s hard to describe the feeling. It wasn’t really a physical sweetness but a spiritual one. And I’ve only ever had this feeling in Jerusalem. We toured the Old City, and slowly arrived at the steps to the Kotel in the Jewish Quarter. As we got closer the sweetness intensified, as did my anticipation. The air became still and quiet, the only sounds coming from people’s conversations. I washed my hands and then eagerly made my way through to the women’s section of the wall.
I was in awe that I was actually here, I had finally returned after 16 years. I put my left hand on the stones and was immediately overcome with emotion. I thought about the thousands of years the Jews have been in exile: hoping, praying, and dying waiting to return to Jerusalem. About my family’s journey, and my own path to return. All of the struggle and hardships in the world, war, famine, and illness. I prayed for peace in Israel and the rest of the world. That Israel’s soldiers would be kept safe. That there would be no more sickness in the world, no more pain or suffering. That we would be free live Torah lives without fear. That we may all return to Israel soon. And I begged Him to not make me wait another 16 years to return.
It was then that I experienced something truly special. I felt a connection to the land, and I could feel the souls of every Jew: past, present, and future. And the land itself was calling all of us home. I cannot adequately describe this experience, and I may even sound crazy. All I can say is I’ve never felt anything like it and probably won’t experience it again. As for my prayers, I could feel that everything I had asked for is going to happen soon. At the time it had felt imminent, like it could happen the next day. But Hashem is infinite, and “soon” is relative to Him. Fast forward two years, and these things have yet to occur. But I believe we are close to the redemption era, and eagerly anticipate its arrival. For now, I will continue to visit as often as possible, until I can finally say “נס גדול היה פה– a great miracle happened HERE.”
I recently took my parents to Israel to visit my brother. It was the only time all three of us would be able to come. It was also the first time my parents had been to Israel since 2002. Needless to say, a lot has changed since then. There are many more stores with a wider variety of goods, traffic has skyrocketed, and thankfully, there are no more bus bombings. We were there to see my brother, but we also made it their pilot trip. This would probably be their only chance to see Israel before making Aliyah, and it was vital that they experience the country as it is now.
Our journey began with just my mother and I. My father had to work the day before Thanksgiving, so we went ahead to get settled before Shabbat. We landed on Thanksgiving Day, and schlepped our luggage with us to Givat Shmuel. We would be staying at the hotel Lev Yerushalayim, but check in was not until 3 pm. My friend was gracious enough to let us stop by her home and take us out for a delicious lunch. On our way back to her place, we were surprised by my brother, who had been let off early by the army that day. You can watch my mother and brother’s tearful reunion here:
Once we arrived in Jerusalem, we took the light rail to our hotel. This proved to be quite the undertaking as it was a Thursday evening, and every Thursday evening the light rail is PACKED. In Israel, the weekend starts Thursday evening until Sunday morning. Everyone is getting off work and heading into Jerusalem to go out for fun. We just barely fit all 3 of us on the train, and I’m still not even sure how we brought our luggage.
We woke up early the next morning and rushed to the airport to pick up my father from the airport. We made it back to the hotel just in time for Shabbat. We spent Shabbat at the hotel, and went to the Kotel for maariv and shacharit services. Motzei Shabbat we went out to eat and shop around on Ben Yehuda street.
On Sunday, my brother needed to return to the army. I took my parents to Chevron for the first time. They absolutely loved it. They saw Maarat Hamachpela (my mother was overcome with tears at Rachel Imeinu’s conspicuous absence), we visited the Chevron Heritage Center, and we ran into the famous Ben Goldstein. Ben is a huge advocate for Israel and provides equipment for IDF soldiers such as winter gear that the army does not provide. You can check out his YouTube channel here, and please consider donating so he can provide more needed supplies!
On Monday we visited Givat Shmuel again, and met with a friend of mine for lunch and to speak about my dad’s employment prospects post Aliyah. One tip they gave was to take advantage of the connections you have- it’s all about who you know. Afterwards we went to the Jerusalem beach in Tel Aviv, where the sand is so incredibly soft it feels like powder! After we saw the sunset we headed over to Petach Tikvah and met with another friend of mine about employment opportunities and living in the Tel Aviv area.
The next day, my parents took a tour of the City of David. In 2002, the City of David had not yet been discovered and excavated. But today, actual historic locations mentioned in the Tanach from more than 3000 years ago can be explored. Artifacts from King David’s palace were being discovered before their eyes. While this was happening I met with a friend and we listened to a couple of inspiring lectures at the Aish HaTorah World Center. After their tour ended, we returned to the Kotel and took pictures together.
Wednesday morning we set out for Modiin. We met with a realtor who took us around the city and showed us a few apartments. He talked about the community, the cost of living, and local employment opportunities. We ate lunch at the mall, and returned to Jerusalem. Once there, my parents decided to see how well they could explore around on their own. They did pretty well, but they still have a lot to learn when it comes to interacting with Israelis!
We woke up the next morning and packed for our evening flight. It was our last day for activities. Once everything was packed we went on a tour of The Temple Institute. This experience was absolutely incredible! You aren’t allowed to take photos, or I would have shared some here. But the things we saw there were absolutely breathtaking. So many of the vessels are built and ready to go for the next Beit Hamikdash. Kohanim are being trained for all of their duties serving in the Temple. All that’s really needed is the construction, which will be soon B”H.
After this, we visited the Kotel one last time. There was a bar mitzvah celebration with lots of singing and dancing. Everyone who wasn’t part of the group was participating and celebrating, because we are all one big family. We exited the quarter and waited for our bus. Outside of the security entrance you could still hear the singing, the voices of our people united in absolute joy. I was overcome with emotion. I usually cry every time I leave Israel, but this time was especially difficult. How was I supposed to leave this place, my home? My home where I’ve never actually lived, where my brother is currently serving in the army, risking his life for it’s defense? When my parents are finally here with me, and we can all be together again? And I know in my heart, no in my soul, that I am meant to be here. My future is here, my family is here, my people are here, how can I possibly leave? I was sobbing under an olive tree when a woman from a Christian tour group came over to me. She hugged me and told me that Hashem has a plan for me, that right now I can’t be here because I still have a mission to fulfill. That my love for Israel is beautiful. And when the time is right, I’ll be able to finally come home. She followed this by showing me this video on her phone, and it was exactly what I needed in that moment. It’s amazing how we are all interconnected, and feel the same light that exists in Jerusalem.
Leaving this time was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I know I’ll be back, and one day it will be forever. But for now I will get ready, and fulfill my mission from Texas. My parents now have a better understanding of what it will be like to live in Israel, and are more prepared for their own journey. They too can’t wait until it’s their time to make Aliyah. May we all merit to live in Israel and see the Beit Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days.
The first time I visited Israel, I was six years old. I don’t remember much of it, and the little I do remember is mostly from watching home videos. Growing up I went to a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school that heavily emphasized Zionism. We would have days where we learned about the history of Israel, Israeli culture, Israeli food, and Israeli current events. We would pray for the welfare of the State of Israel, the safety of IDF soldiers, and the return of then captured Gilad Shalit from Hamas. All of our Hebrew teachers were Israeli, and sometimes I would stay after class to learn more about this amazing country that eventually became almost mythical to me. A place that you hear about, and wish you could go visit, but somehow would always be out of reach.
Fast forward a few years, and I applied to go on a Birthright trip . For those of you who don’t know, Birthright Israel is an organization that sends young Jewish adults ages 18-32 on a 10-day trip to Israel FOR FREE. Seriously. Round-trip plane tickets, food, travel, attractions, and sleeping accommodations are all included. You are provided with a private tour bus, an amazing and knowledgeable tour guide, meet Israeli soldiers (who join you on the trip), and have a security guard/medic with you the entire time. They have a lot of different organizers, each with a lot of different types of trips. I chose Israel Free Spirit as my organizer and applied to go on the “modox” (modern orthodox) trip. Thankfully I was accepted, and started to prepare for what would be the most memorable trip of my life.
When I left Dallas for Israel, I thought I was already in love with Israel and the idea of making Aliyah. I thought I was prepared for this trip and while I was physically packed with everything I could possibly need, I was completely unprepared for the emotional onslaught that hit me when the plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport. I was finally here, a place that had become legendary in my mind as a child. A place that at one time I never imagined I would be able to return. And now, I was finally HOME. It’s amazing how before I went to Israel, I never noticed feeling as if something was missing in my life. Upon landing, I felt as if I was finally where I was supposed to be, and it was such a relief. I experienced all of this within the first five minutes of landing in Israel, and it is all thanks to Birthright Israel. For those who are eligible and haven’t gone yet, I cannot recommend it enough.
My trip was simply magical. The people on the trip were incredible, and we bonded so much so that by the end of the trip we felt like a family. Everyone in charge of planning and coordinating the trip did an amazing job. Our itinerary was jam-packed full of action, sight-seeing, fascinating historical lectures, lively discussions and debates, interaction with Israelis, opportunities for spiritual growth, and of course, delicious food. I created a video of my trip, which can be seen here.
For obvious reasons, this trip was a pivotal moment in my Aliyah story. It was my first time back in Israel, and I fell even more in love with the land and the people than I thought was possible. I learned a lot about myself, and had a better idea of what it’s like to live there. I am much more confident in my ability to make Aliyah. Now going to Israel is no longer an insurmountable feat. Six months after this trip, I returned to Israel to visit my brother (who had since made Aliyah himself) and to see the friends I made on Birthright. I am returning in two months to go to one of my best friend’s wedding. And I have every intention on coming back as often as possible before my Aliyah date.
Feel free to ask me any questions you may have about applying to and going on a Birthright trip, and let me know if you want me to make more in-depth posts about my trip!
With Pesach just around the corner, I remember having an epiphany four years ago that has forever changed the course of my life. At the end of the seder, we always say “Next year in Jerusalem!” But on that night, I began to wonder why we often say this phrase without any real intent. Almost as if the chances of it happening are the same as opening the door and Eliyahu is standing there waiting to be invited inside. Is living in Israel really such a crazy idea? Before I would have answered this question with a resounding YES. It’s on the other side of the world. It’s in the Middle East. I could barely speak any Hebrew. It’s expensive to move. It’s expensive to live there. It’s a different culture. I didn’t have any family, or even any friends living there. Then of course there’s the propensity of the media to portray Israel as being in a constant state of war with terror attacks happening left and right. In short, it was a great unknown, one with a lot of risk and next to no support system in place. For these reasons I never even considered Aliyah until after my first year of college.
So what had made this night, in this year different from all other nights? A couple of months prior, my family had watched the JerusalemU documentary “Beneath the Helmet” (https://beneaththehelmet.jerusalemu.org/). After viewing it, my brother decided he wanted to join the IDF as a lone soldier or chayal boded. At first we thought he was just going through a phase, and he would decide to do something else after graduating high school. When we realized he was serious, we immediately started to panic about everything ranging from from his safety to where would he do his laundry. This prompted a lot of research online and reaching out to others who had also served in the IDF to hear about their experiences. With all of this going on, the natural progression then inevitably led to the realization that it’s not impossible nor is it crazy to move to Israel (well okay, you may have to be a little crazy).
Then my best friend from high school returned to Dallas after having spent a year in Israel studying in seminary. After catching up, she told me she had decided she wanted to make Aliyah. I couldn’t believe it, we were both coming to the same conclusion about where we wanted to live out our lives. She returned to Israel as soon as she was approved. I decided to wait until after I finished university, and as a result I was able to learn from her experience. So now I had someone living in Israel that I knew, a brother about to join the army, and familiarity with the Aliyah process. I decided it was also time for me to prepare to make Aliyah, to make the dream MY reality. The next step would be to visit Israel and see it for myself….