I've been posting more than usual lately. It's kind of nice to know I still have something to say, but honestly, I think it has more to do with the fact that school has slowed down, so I can once again breathe.
Ezzie tagged me with the Israel Meme. My instructions, which I think I may actually follow (I guess it does happen once in a blue moon) are to share an experience I had in Israel or one I have heard, in honor of Israel's Independence Day.
After finding out that I had been tagged, one experience in Israel stands out in my mind as the obvious one to write about. My initial reaction was actually that I just had to find it, of course I must have written about it before, because it was such an incredibly defining moment in my life. But I can't find it, either on my blog, nor in my computer, so I guess I will just have to reconstruct it now.
In the summer of 1997, I went to Israel on Aish Hatorah's Jerusalem Fellowships program. I was in the middle of college and my parents had seen an advertisement for extremely cheap trips to Israel and thought that it might be a good thing for me to enjoy my summer. The trip was for one month (I chose July due to a camp that I worked in June and my brother's Bar Mitzvah in August) - and airfare, lodging, food and sightseeing were all included. What I didn't realize would also be included was a completely life-changing experience.
My parents were aware that Aish Hatorah was an Orthodox organization, and we were far from Orthodox, but like I said before, it was a really cheap trip and a great opportunity for me to travel to Israel. I had met with the representative who was actually living in Alabama at the time and he had definitely sparked my interest. Besides seeing the land, I had always been curious to learn more about Judaism. My Sunday School education hardly did justice to our heritage, and I knew I was missing a lot. I just didn't realize how much.
Anyway, one moment of that trip stands out in my head as the moment my life took a major turn. A few days after my arrival in Jerusalem, my head still spinning from lack of sleep, being in a really different country, and meeting a ton of new people, it was time for Shabbos. Previously, Shabbos was Friday night. My mom would light candles, my dad would say kiddush, we would have challah and a meal for about half an hour. That wasn't the Shabbos I was about to experience.
Aish Hatorah sure knows what they are doing. Before Shabbos started, they transported all of us into the Old City and led us up to a rooftop overlooking the Kotel. From there, we sang and danced Kabbalas Shabbos while watching the sun set over the Kotel while it filled with thousands of people. We watched the guys from Yeshiva Hakotel march in while singing, and we watched people dressed in all colors and styles come together en masse to welcome Shabbos.
Then it was out turn to go down and join the crowd in front of the Kotel. I had never been there before, didn't even know what the Kotel was until someone had explained to me that it was the Western (or Wailing) Wall. I had heard about that, but didn't really understand the significance.
As we walked closer, the sounds, smells and throbbing energy of all those people, all those Jews, filled me. One of the leaders of the group encouraged me to move closer to the Kotel itself, and helped us make out way towards the Wall, though that night it was too crowded to actually get up to the front and touch its stones.
As I walked closer, I was overcome with emotion. I hadn't expected such a feeling, but all of a sudden, I felt Hashem like I had never felt Him before. I felt His presence there, smiling down on me, telling me that everything was going to be all right, and that He loved me. I know it might sound weird, but I really did feel it.
I burst into tears, not even knowing why. I wasn't sad, I felt comforted for the first time in a really long time. My group leader gave me a big hug and led me back from the Kotel to make sure I was okay. I assured her I was, we slowly left the Plaza.
That moment was the single most spiritual moment I have ever experienced. It has led me down a path that I am fortunate to have traveled. Hashem knew what He was doing, in so many ways. And I can't thank Him enough.
Ok, I'm tagging (and I apologize if you have already been tagged) A Bit of Light, The Tailor, and Search for Emes. Enjoy!