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Day 8 in Israel

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 - 9:22 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Written by Hilary Campbell '14

Yesterday morning we woke up for our final day in Jerusalem.  The bus
felt much emptier without the soldiers as we headed to two Mayanot
seminaries, one for  the boys and one for the girls. The group
separated respectively and we each spent a few hours experiencing
Yeshiva-style learning, which focuses heavily on group discussion for
learning rather than lectures from the rabbi or teacher. Us girls
worked to decipher the Shma which, until then, I had spent countless
afternoons in Hebrew school reciting without really knowing its
meaning  (sorry Mom). The Rabbi, a Brooklyn native, compared Judaism
to having a relationship with G-d, which was a totally unique
interpretation. The Rabbi compared studying Torah to dating and
getting to know G-d and growing together through such practices. I
don’t plan to now sing prayers in a flirty manner or wear heels to
Synagogue, but I thought the Rabbi’s analogy was really interesting
and relatable.
We then went to the Kotel Tunnels which is a massive, ongoing
archeological dig that exposes parts of King Harod’s palace and the
Jerusalem of over 2,000 years ago. As someone who studies and has a
strong faith in science and logic, I’ve struggled to really “buy into”
a lot that we’ve been discussing. For me, the only way the Red Sea
could have parted is if there was a rare tsunami caused by a rare, but
plausible, earthquake. However, the tunnels showed physical evidence
of the stories of the Crusades and the repeated turning hands of
Jerusalem as told for thousands of years. Even I began to start
questioning my own doubt of the stories of the Torah, which is
something that  I never expected to happen on this trip. We literally
stood under the bridge that the Muslims built to reach the Temple
mount which King Harod carved into the mountains by Jerusalem. I still
don’t think that the Red Sea parted in the way the Torah says, but
these tunnels and other parts of this trip have really made me wonder
just how much evidence of the stories of Jewish history is out there.
After the tunnels we each got a chance to write down prayers and
reflect at the Western Wall. Friends and family who have visited this
site have told me of its intensity and bizarre power to draw up strong
emotions. I saw men and women crying as they sang or muttered their
most personal wishes to the area beyond the wall. I really wanted to
experience this emotion, but I was entirely distracted by the massive
wall between the men’s section of prayer and the women’s section. If
you’ve been there, you know that not only is the men’s section 3 to 4
times the size of the women’s, it’s also closest to the spot on the
wall which is considered the most holy and closest to the divide
between the physical and divine worlds. As someone who has grown up
fully believing my own ability to be equal to men, this was truly
offensive and seemed, to me, to taint whatever holiness is at the
Kotel. If there is a G-d, I don’t believe she or he would want this
divide or would want her or his people to place one gender above the
other. Some religious people will say that this divide is for other
reasons, but time and time again I have been distressed and
discomforted by what seems to be the blatant sexism rooted in Jewish
faith. The Wall is absolutely stunning, but the overt divide really
took away its beauty from my perspective and I was unable to feel the
power that my friends and family have spoken of.
We then quickly went and visited the Jewish quarter and learned from
Daniel about the significance of this plot of land, which is only 1/9
the area of Jerusalem. Again the reality that Israel has always been a
Jewish land, at some times more than others, was hit home. We were
lucky enough to climb up to a rooftop that overlooked the entire city,
and watch from there as the Kotel Menorah was lit for the second night
of Hanukah. In the distance we could hear Muslim prayer from the
Muslim quarter. I was overwhelmed by co-occurrence of these rituals
and began to wonder if this co-occurrence will ever be possible in all
of Israel and all of the Middle East.
From there, we drove to the Bedouin tents in the middle of nowhere in
the desert. We had traditional food sitting on cushions in one of the
tents and then had time to reflect upon the past few days in groups.
We then spent the rest of the night talking by a bonfire and sharing
stories. As typical Dartmouth students, we ended up discussing our
favorite Dartmouth traditions and funny stories from school. It was
pretty incredible sitting in the middle of nowhere, with several
people who I hadn’t e even met at school, and sharing a commonality
between us. One student compared the connection that we all undeniably
feel to the Dartmouth with the connection that he felt to the land of
Israel as a Jew. Frat basements and rampant public nudity aside, I
completely knew where he was coming from. Even as a reform Jew that
grew up pretty secular, I absolutely feel a connection to this country
and to the people who live here. If this connection is anything like
the one I feel to Dartmouth, I know that I’ll absolutely be returning
like those sketchy alumni in order to relive it over again. 

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