We have had an awesome first 24 hours in Israel.When we landed, we met the six Israeli soldiers who will be traveling with us for the entire trip and headed to Jerusalem together. Our first stop last night was Mt. Scopus where we looked out over the city of Jerusalem and said the shehechiyanu, a traditional Jewish prayer to commemorate special occasions.
Everyone has managed their jetlag impressively well-- we allwoke up this morning in time to enjoy a traditional Israeli breakfast of saladsand eggs. We spent the day in the Old City of Jerusalem-- including a visit tothe Kotel (Western Wall), the Kotel Tunnels, and Herodian Temples.
Staff, Penn Hillel
We began our exploration of Jerusalem today, touring the streets and various food stalls of the Old City. Our visit was both spiritually and historically oriented, so we were able to enjoy the holy sites and learn about the people who have revered them for centuries. One of the coolest experiences was witnessing the variety of reactions that visitors to the Western Wall had – some cried or danced, while others stood indifferent before the great edifice. I’m looking forward to observing more Judaism in action over the next ten days.
After experiencing the thrill and wonder of praying at the Kotel and touring the tunnels underground, it was finally time for the lunch of a lifetime (or at least the best lunch yet of a two-day trip) – Israeli schawarma, just steps into the Jewish Quarter. While the schawarma (as well as the tapuzim,or sugary orange drink) was certainly enjoyable, one of the most memorable parts of the day was joining two yeshiva students who were sitting at a patio, singing a short Israeli song. As they sang the traditional tov l’hodot, my brother and I casually joined them and sang along for maybe five minutes. But the joy of finding two students your own age and simply connecting withthem through song highlights the unique opportunity that birthright provides and the special occasions that seem like they can only happen in Israel. Later we found out that one student, who lives in Boston, has an aunt who teaches at UVA. Even in Israel, we’re more connected to the US than we might have thought.
In photo, Hayley Sacks (Penn '13) and Guy Viner (Penn '14)