Saturday, February 13, 2016

Day 2: The Kotel and Ben Yehuda Street

Today was super special to me because my sister came to visit!  She also brought a friend who is from home and just happened to be in town for a few days. Ironically, he also happened to know three other people in our group! Small world!

We started with a much needed sleep in ish. I say ish because sleeping in means very different times to each person in the group!  For me, it meant sleeping till 9ish. After a Shabbat breakfast (read: all cold foods as the hotel is very Orthodox), Renee and I decided to give services a try. We walked down the block to a beautiful Orthodox synagogue with incredible stained glass and an expansive mezuzah collection in the lobby. I wish I had pictures, but out of respect for Shabbat, the pictures remain in my memory. 

It was fascinating to be inside the sanctuary- men were on the main floor, and women were two flights up in the balcony floor. Thankfully, the siddur they had offered both English and Hebrew choices. (Though it was kinda cool cause I could actually read the Hebrew, even if I still have no clue what it means!). Services were so different than I am used to. Most notably, there was a boy about six years old running all over the bima during th service. In fact, there were children of all ages haphazardly playing through the the synagogue during services, to a degree I haven't seen at home. 

After services, we all met back together in the lobby awaiting my sister's arrival. As it was Shabbat, there really isn't much to do in Jerusalem, everything is closed. Everything, that is, except the Kotel, which, lucky for us, was walking distance from our hotel. With Ellery as our guide, we made our way through the narrow Arab shopping ally and into the walls of the Kotel. It was quite breathtaking.   We were standing at the top of the stairs staring at thousands of years of history, only moments away from touching it. 

I can't quite explain the feeling of resting my hands on the wall, where people have placed their heads for generations and generations. I don't think that the feeling is describable. My sister stood next to me and together we read a few psalms before silently backing away from the majestic site. As much as the media in the states portrays the danger of being in Israel and especially in the areas surrounding the Westerm Wall, I felt completely safe. 

We left the wall and stopped at a nice little out door restaurant where we had the most delicious bread and salads and pastas. It was, we thought, a lunch much better than what we would have had at the hotel!  From, there, we headed back to the hotel and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, talking, and snacking on the delicious fruits and pastries we picked up while at the Shuk yesterday. As the sun set and Shabbat ended, my sister and Nate said their goodbyes and headed back to Tel Aviv while we headed inside to change into warmer clothes before we walked down to Ben Yehuda street. 

It was so cool to see that when we arrived on Ben Yehuda, which was only a few blocks from the hotel, only a few businesses were open, but by the time we left around 9:30 or so, the street was just getting warmed up for what looked to be a long night of celebrating!  There were some great little shops and restaurepants we explored before we ended up at our first Shwarma restaurant of the trip!  
After a fairly tasty (but from what I heard, not the best), dinner of Shwarma and chips, we headed back to the hotel.  While I can't speak for anyone else, I collapsed into bed wishing the alarm was twice as far away as it was!

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