Phill Coletti Dartmouth ‘14
For those of you who have had the opportunity to visit Israel, you must remember the majestic atmosphere that pervades the old city of Jerusalem. If you have not yet had the opportunity to come to the holy land, I must qualify this blog entry by saying that much will be lost in translation from eyes and ears to the English language.
The old city of Jerusalem is incredibly unique. Think Diagon Alley meets Minas Tirith: Extremely narrow paths laid with cobblestone, high walls of Jerusalem Stone tight on either side, (every single building is made of this one rock), certain streets bustling with orthodox Jews hurrying to pray. The universal consistency of Jerusalem Stone as a construction material dissolves the typical sense of separate buildings. Rather, it felt as if we were walking on paths through one enormous unified structure.
Deep within the city lies the holiest place we Jews go to pray in the current day, the Western Wall. Chaotic is an understatement for the scene that met us there. Jews from all walks of life were pouring in the courtyard, wrapping tefillen, donning kippas, rocking back and forth while muttering under their breaths, writing notes to press into the cracks in the wall, and carrying our ancient scrolls around in joyous celebration of bar/bat mitzvahs. I, myself, put tefillen for the first time, an interesting experience to be sure. The leather strap is fairly tight, so I was definitely made aware that there were scrolls bound to my arm and head. Everyone on our trip, spanning the full spectrum of religious views from ultra orthodox to extreme skepticism, took the opportunity very seriously. Who knows when we will get another chance to come to the holiest place of Jewish worship? If there was ever a time to set aside skepticism and fully embrace the religion I have been raised with, this was it. I wouldn’t want to look back on this trip and regret not having taken full advantage of the opportunity I had been afforded.
What I must communicate is how close all this is taking place to the Dome of the Rock. We were literally praying at and kissing the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, which is under Muslim Control. It is unique for two locations so important to two different religions to coexist so close in proximity. While we were walking around the ruins of the second temple, right next to the Western Wall, we could clearly hear the Islamic calls to prayer projecting from above.
Towards the end of the day, five of our trip members were given a bar or bat mitzvah. They had decided that now would be the time to begin the next chapter in their Jewish story, that they would like to further develop their Jewish identity. This beautiful ceremony was a fantastic way to initiate the transformation into more conscious and dedicated Jews. There was laughter, crying, praying, and singing (no dancing, no chairs being thrown up and down, no lavish after parties... less distractions and more of the good stuff). We were all ecstatic for our brave and dedicated peers.
While we joyfully welcomed five new Bar/Bat mitzvahs to our numbers, we were unfortunately forced to part with eight more, our Israeli soldiers. On this last day as a group, we exchanged Chanukah presents, “Secret Moses” style. The presents ranged from pretty little pieces of jewelry, to fuzzy ear muffs, to shot glasses, to hilarious t-shirts, to confetti launchers. Smiles all around. But then it was time to say goodbye, and it sucked. Don’t get me wrong… we said some touching goodbyes. We welcomed them into our homes in the US. They invited us to come stay with them in Israel. Everyone talked of our fantastic experiences together. But the reality prevailed that we were going to have to part ways with these fantastic people who had become such a vital part of our trip family. They were the comic relief, the Israeli Wikipedias, the coolest kids on the block. But most of all, they had truly become our friends. I say this not because we had formed relationships for novelty out of some forced interaction through Mayanot Birthright. We had shaped truly meaningful connections with these people not as our Israeli hosts, not as our Israeli guests, not as our Israeli protectors, but as our Jewish peers. We shared jokes, innuendos, slang, romance stories, and meaningful philosophical conversations. Ido, Asi, Erel, Niv, Ayellet, Leigh, Shirley, and Shaked (sorry if I butchered any of those names) showed us that we all share this one common bond which transcends language barriers, cultural divides, and political tension. We love them, we will miss them, and we hope to see them again some time soon.
It is now one o’clock, and I am getting up in less than 6 hours, so I will try to wrap this up, but I want to share one example (just one of many) of a meaningful conversation that I had with a soldier on this trip. Ido is a truly amazing individual. Take away the accent, and you would never know that he was not an American. He listens to classic rock, knows the words to every Pink Floyd song ever written, and as seen more American movies than I have (slightly embarrassing as I consider myself something of a movie buff). We are both interested in studying physics and math and we share a similar fascination with the universe around us. As someone who loves to shoot the shit about physics, the universe, creation, the big bang, etc. I was more than happy to have someone to bounce ideas off of and learn from. One matter we discussed was how one can reconcile a belief in God with a belief in physics, in science, in Darwinism and the big bang. He put forth a theory that I had never truly considered before. It synthesized a bunch of conceptions I have had about religion, the torah, the universe, and mankind in a completely different, but inspirationally refreshing way. In an age when I seem to here the same arguments over and over and over, a new perspective is a welcome treat. (It would take far too long to even summarize the conversation that we undertook, but if you are intrigued, shoot me an email and we can talk about it.) By coming half way around the world, I may have finally figured out that I need to major in physics so I can better understand what the hell is going on out there in the night sky.
Brain-dead and struggling against heavy eyelids,