Written by Eric Edelstein '13
Day 8 fatigue is a very real thing. Every part of us is vaguely tired but you’re not exactly sure why because total net exercise for the trip so far has consisted solely of casually strolling in large groups and eating significant quantities of falafel which despite popular belief, does in fact get old. Luckily for us, the sun in Jerusalem is quite bright and after snoozing the alarm clock around a dozen times it was it was way to bright to keep sleeping. So we grimly rolled out of bed, packed our bags realizing we had finished our last night in the Holy City, and joined a solid 150 Nigerians at the Hotel Breakfast. Lesson 1 of the day: Our Nigerian friends are actually our Christian counterparts, and their government, which pays for Muslim citizens to make the pilgrimage to the Hajj, similarly pays for their Christian population to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The jury is still out on where the Nigerian Jews are.
After this enlightening breakfast that finally explained the overwhelming amount of diversity at the beautiful Jerusalem Park Hotel, we unceremoniously threw all our bags on the bus (apologies for all the fragile gifts for you folks at home that are now most likely broken) and made our way back toward the Old City. We guys broke off from the girls here, and proceeded to a dudes-only first stop at the Mayanot Yeshiva House that our very own Rabbi Gray taught at over a decade ago. None of us went in knowing exactly what to expect, but they opened up by dumping several bins of the best chocolate rugelach I’ve ever had (sorry Grandma, these guys really know what they’re doing). From there things got really interesting as we proceeded to break off into groups with about two of us Birthrighters with a Rabbi in training. As an important note, these Rabbis in training are really just guys our age, many of whom are American (i.e. Westchester County), who have decided to pursue Talmudic study just as we chose liberal art or whatever it is we do at Dartmouth. Talking with someone whose life is so similar to ours yet being taken in a completely different directions reminded me very strongly of the IDF soldiers that departed our group yesterday. If you were to look at our 20-something-year-old lives as a series of decisions, ranging in all degrees of minor to major, they are studying in Yeshiva while we cram for exams in Baker Library is probably only separated by a few choices. This realization that our environment really wasn’t that foreign helped me settle into the day and we proceeded to break down six or seven sentences in the Story of Joseph in English and Hebrew. Dave Bessel and I kept venturing off text with our soon-to-be Rabbi to ask personal questions, and learned why Chabad Rabbis aren’t into Payes despite the fact that it’s impossible to shampoo. Back to the text though, in traditional Yeshiva fashion, these hundred words or so took about 45 minutes to cover, but the insights and commentary from Rashi were very interesting. Having not read Rashi since Hebrew school at the beginning of high school, I felt a better appreciation for his ability to simplify text by using very few words, a skill I think we could all learn from.
After several more helpings of rugelach we moved to their prayer room where Monday Torah reading was about to begin. Lesson 2: you don’t only read the Torah on Shabbat. Fancy that. I don’t think many of us expected to make any Aliyah this morning, but so it came to pass and after part of the story of Joseph and a few more small travelers’ prayers, and we ended up in a classic dance breakdown of Mazol Tov. Yeshivas don’t exactly go to the Disco Disco here, so I imagine they get most of their dancing here in services. To each his own. Continuing with Yeshiva traditions, we promptly fell behind schedule with the schmoozing and dancing but eventually ended up in a study room upstairs with one of their head Rabbis. For those of you back home, this was a special man. Picture a heavily bearded Woody Allen with an even more outdated collection of Jewish jokes and some sprinklings of wisdom. The discussion that followed was one of the most interesting explanations of faith and human relationships I’ve ever seen as shown through the reunion of Joseph and his brother Benjamin and later his father Jacob. I’m no Rabbi so I won’t go into any details here, but the simple ease with which the more seasoned Rabbi could bring us closer to his level of understanding when juxtaposed against the younger Rabbis, studying day and night to achieve this skill was very interesting to see. We did a quick Q&A with a guy our age who has just moved over from Chicago to see if Yeshiva was for him. He’s no Lebuvich, he dresses casually, parties pretty hard in Tel Aviv, and has a lot of doubts, but managed to spell out exactly how his educational path is giving him a greater sense of who he was. He also didn’t try to sell us any books or artwork at the end of his schpiel which was a nice breath of fresh air, but somewhere in there I think we guys all saw a bit of ourselves, trying to figure out what the hell this place means to us too.
We left, got back on the bus and went to pick up the girls where they were doing their own Yeshiva learning. Finding ourselves not in mixed company for the first time since our river rafting trip to the Mikvah, we naturally filled the vacuum with some aggressively off-color jokes and general shenanigans. All good things have to come to an end though, so we picked the girls up, made out way to the Old City and as we were probably a least an hour behind schedule at this point, we headed right for the Temple Mount tunnels to begin our tour. I have to say this was one of the most interesting and heavy hitting parts of trip so far in the way that it merged the archeological history we have learned and the spiritual meaning of the temple we discussed. Walking underground along the ancient Temple walls and perfectly preserved roads and tunnels that made up this 2500 year old city of Jerusalem will stay with me for a while. Many believe that in one of those yet-to-be excavated tunnels lies the Ark of the Covenant, in a carefully hidden chamber of King Solomon’s design, meant to protect it if the Temple should ever fall (It did. Twice). At numerous points you could look next to the impressive walls and see blocks that fell from over 100ft above during the Roman destruction of the Second Temple, untouched in close to two millennia. They are there, exactly as they fell and remain some of the only relics we have of that history. I can’t do the surreal feeling of the tunnels justice so I can only hope that whatever pictures go up on the blog tonight put the meaning of that maze into perspective.
My battery is dying here fast, but for posterity I should cover the rest of the day in short. We exited the tunnels and were given a good bit of time to visit the Kotel individually, and embrace the spiritual meaning we found in it. I wrapped Taffilin for the first time in years and really enjoyed the quiet time to reflect. We left the wall to do a quick circuit of the ancient Jewish Quarter, saw some more impressive walls (this city has an egregious amount of walls) and ended with a view of the Kotel one last time as the Channuka candles being lit for the third night, nicely coinciding with the Muslim call to evening prayer. Talk about a cultural crossroads. For all you parents out there, I estimate there are somewhere around 1,000 pictures of this and I really hope that some of these can help those of you at home visualize this moment.
Battery is now officially dead. Either that or all these pop-up warnings about losing data are for show, so I’ll sign off by saying we’re now headed down to the desert to visit a Bedoin village which I’m pretty sure is an oxymoron. It’s cold and sandy here and it seems that the entire Israeli Air Force is doing flybys overhead but I’m just pretending they are joy rides so we can all enjoy some old world dancing and camels with minimal chance of war. Scouting reports say we’re eating hummus again for dinner, life’s ok. With any luck, our 5:45 wake up for sunrise camel riding (that’s a thing here) won’t be so bad, but the day 9 fatigue sure promises to be.
Regards from the Holy Land,