On Thursday, May 5th, we woke up for our first day in Yerushalayim! We’d been up north in a heat wave, but here, we’ve been wearing pants and sweatshirts — it’s crazy! First thing in the morning, we got on the bus and drove to the Old City to have Tefillah at the Kotel. Specifically, we were at Ezrat Yisrael, which is a platform that overlooks part of the Western Wall, but is south of the main plaza. This is the area where women are allowed to read Torah and wear Talit. Davening at the Kotel on Yom Ha’Atzmaut was an amazing, surreal experience that almost can’t be described. It’s something that we hear about all of the time, but being there really does make Tefillah feel different, because we’re at the holiest place for the Jewish people.

Next, we had a tour of the Old City. Yoav told us all about the history of the city and the architecture throughout Jerusalem.

After the tour, we got to take our own time at the main Kotel plaza for personal prayers and notes. Personally, the time at the Kotel was a very eye-opening experience, because you see people from all over the world, who have all different levels of observance coming together. Being somewhere with so much history and so many prayers is an incredible experience. We also got to see a virtual reality film about what the temple looked like before destruction. Getting to see what the Beit Kineset looked like and could look like was really cool.

After the Kotel, we had a Pizur lunch in the Jewish quarter. I highly recommend the pizza! We also got ice cream (a big surprise, I know!). My recommendation is the banana date ice cream. Coach Zach and Alexis had told me about how they always ate it when they were in Israel, so naturally, I had to try it to see if they were right.

After lunch, we went to water tunnels in the city of David and learned the history of the tunnels. Although the tunnels were narrow and dark, the water didn’t go too high, and neither did the ceilings, but it was still fun.

After the tunnels, we went straight to the Ramah Israel barbecue for Yom Ha’Atzmaut in Jerusalem. We got to meet and hang out with 8th graders from all over the US and learn about the TRY program, which is basically a semester abroad in Israel. While we were there, we also got to meet Hillary, who was GSDS’s tour guide for about 5 years. Out of the six of us, four have siblings who were on tours with Hillary, and Gavi’s mom went to college with her. We’ve all heard so much about her for so long, so getting to meet her was cool.

Because the barbecue ended with an Israeli dance party, we continued to bring the ruach with a karaoke sing-along on the bus. We covered the classics from “I Want it That Way” to “Sweet Caroline” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” To end the night, we had a group gathering on the sixth floor where we played Just Dance with Osher (our guard/medic) and Daniel (our madrich) and hung out.

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Paul Lurie

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