Written by Nate Lewin '14
When I travelled through Europe with after high school, I would routinely check my back pocket to ensure that my wallet was still where I left it and that no pick pockets had had their way. I’ve also developed the unfortunate habit of compulsively checking my phone at any sort of lull in most social interactions (whether or not there is anything I need to see). These routine pocket checks gave me a bit of stress as I attempted to keep Shabbat to the fullest I could for the first time in my life as we stayed in Jerusalem this Saturday, as one of my roommates on the trip said—“If there’s ever a time to do it, it’s now.” Honestly it was nice not to worry about where my wallet had gone or what minutia is happening on the internet, but as I ran to my cell phone after Havdalah, desperately attempting to connect to the hotel wifi, I realized it’s not something I could do on a regular basis. (And that’s not even mentioning the hour long walk back to the hotel)
As I learned from my past trip to Israel with my family, Shabbat in Jerusalem is an experience, especially with a visit to the Kotel, and this was no exception. We left the hotel around 3:15 on Friday afternoon, taking a bus to the old city (a bus that we, unfortunately, would not see until Sunday). We walked around, learning about some of the sites from our tour guide, eventually stopping at a Chabad synagogue, where Rabbi and Chani explained to us the importance of welcoming Shabbat with the lighting of candles. We were then taken to a rooftop nearby with a gorgeous view of Jerusalem, especially the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. We learned about the spiritual connection of Jews to Jerusalem and the Western Wall in particular. After a lot of reflection, we made our way to the holy site.
The Kotel on Friday night is an odd mix of deep thought, reflection and study, and joyous celebration. You see Jews of “every make and model” (according to Rabbi). Some sat at desks towards the back with their faces buried in a prayer book, and many simply danced and sang in celebration of this holy site on this holy day. After a valiant attempt to lead a full Friday night service towards the back, Rabbi decided that we should join those celebrating. We joined a group of dancing soldiers, and quickly took control. We sang the few joyous songs we knew, led mostly by an incredibly enthusiastic, energetic (and potentially intoxicated) young Chabad rabbi. It is really an unbelievable experience to be a part of such genuine joy and celebration. After Rabbi realized that we would not be concluding the service before we needed to meet the rest of the group, we were given a moment to go closer to the wall to pray and leave our notes within the stones. We took our moments and left our prayers, and returned to the group for the long walk home.