A pilgrimage is when an individual travels to a place that has major religious significance to that person. In the Jewish religion, a pilgrim goes to Israel. A pilgrim can be any size, religion, or age. This time, I was the pilgrim, a taller than average twelve-year old Jewish boy.
Exhaustion was the first thing I registered when I landed in Israel. It was 3:00 AM and I had been flying for two days with a layover. Nevertheless, my enthusiasm hadn’t escaped me. When my dad made the decision to take me to Israel, I was both excited and a little intimidated. Ten days in exotic Israel would be a long time away from home.
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We rented a car and took off South. My cousins had moved to Be’er Sheva a few years prior. Only now, can I understand how shocking the environment change must have been. The area surrounding my cousin’s small village had no green; all I could see was flowing, sandy desert.
Three days later, I found myself in a state of undeniable intensity. They call it “the Holy of Holies” and, holy cow, they were right. The Western Wall is what is left of the Great Temple built by Herod thousands of years ago. It has survived countless wars and is the most sacred monument of Jewish faith. As I slowly approached this larger-than-life structure, I felt goose bumps on my arms. I could hear my own heart beating. Time seemed to slow. All of the stories I had learned in Hebrew School flooded my brain in a jumbled mess. When I touched the wall, I felt close to g-d.
The Old City of Jerusalem is a cultural phenomenon. It has the heart of religious conflict since the Crusades, yet it still contains so much life. In the shuks, Jewish markets, everything from food to menorahs is sold. The atmosphere is a thousand spices, a thousand bits of history. The air was tainted with the seductive aroma of fried, delicious falafel. I bought the keepah, Jewish head cover, in the Old City that I later used at my Bar Mitzvah. My day in Jerusalem was one of the best I’d ever had; but, there was more to come.
Two days later, beads of sweat were turning to bullets in my brows as I hiked Mt. Masada. Masada was home many years ago to three hundred Jews who narrowly escaped Roman capture. Masada, a former palace, served them well for years. However, at a certain point, the Roman’s discovered their hideout and began to build a bridge to reach the peak. When the Jews knew their moments were thinning, they decided to take their own lives rather than live as slaves to the Romans. When I climbed my last step, I sighed. Before me was the site of the greatest display of bravery I have ever heard.
Adjacent to Masada, En Ghedi is an oasis, a water spring, in the middle of nowhere. En Ghedi is plentiful in fresh water pools with water falls. It felt like a blessing swimming in those waters. My morning had been so physically enduring and the day was so incredibly hot that a dip in the pool was sensually out of this world.
During my stay in the Promise Land, the Land of Milk and Honey, I explored modern day Israel and all of its secrets of the past. My religious pilgrimage was more enlightening than I could have ever imagined; I felt more appreciation for my Jewish identity and more connected to Israel.
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