On Friday morning, Joey and I got up early, headed toward the central bus station, and hopped on an intercity bus to Jerusalem. My program was going to Jerusalem on the same day, but for insurance reasons Joey could not travel with the group, because he is not on the Ulpan program. Still, public transportation was really easy and for about $15 we found ourselves in the holy city a few hours later.
We met up with a friend from Brown, Jonah, who is on an awesome fellowship program. He essentially receives money for rent, food, learning, and whatever else he would like to do here in Israel. He said they want him to find his "fireworks," new passions and such, but that it is a little paralyzing to have the means and the time to do so. I imagine that having nothing to hold you back from finding your passions puts pressure on someone to find them right away, even though that process usually takes time to develop. Anyway, we had breakfast and great conversation at a quaint restaurant near Ben Yehuda...I think on Jaffo street, but I am terrible with remembering those kinds of things. We had scrambled eggs, pesto mushrooms, cheese, warm rolls, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. It was quite a feast! Still, I did not fill up too much because I had a lot of eating plans for the day...mainly I wanted to each a lot of rugelach from Marzipan (it is chocolatey and oily and delicious...a must-have in Jerusalem).
After saying goodbye to Jonah, Joey and I walked to the Old City. I came prepared with a long skirt and a shawl to change into. We went to the Kotel and it was crazy to see how small the women's side has become. I don't know if the mechitza was moved since I came on Birthright, but it was difficult to find room against the wall and even in the chairs there. Joey and I split up to pray/visit our respective sides. I had a very moving experience at the Wall on Birthright, but, while I still feel moved now, something about the experience just wasn't the same. Maybe because this time when I looked at all of the people there, I thought that it appeared a bit idolatrous, kissing a wall and believing that stuffing notes containing your prayers there makes them more likely to be answered. Still, I understand that being in a location filled with so much history and connection to the past has an effect; and maybe putting oneself in that particular location changes one's energy or thought process and really does connect them more with G-d. I don't know, I am no religious expert yet.
Joey and I met back up and walked to the shuk. I have never been in Jerusalem on or pre-Shabbas, and I was told the market would be crazy. It did not disappoint! There were people everywhere and a ton of produce to buy. We picked up avocado, mangoes, pita, and apples. Right before entering we had purchased a container of Marzipan rugelach too, so I was a happy camper. The shuk had so many smells that changed so fast, too. One second it would smell like fresh bread, the other like fruit juice, and then suddenly like eggs that have been in hot weather for too long. It was a cool experience to take in, and if I ever live in Jerusalem, I would love to go back when it is bustling like that.
Later on, Joey and I got some shawarma for lunch and checked into our hostel to clean up after baking in the sun all day and before going to services and dinner for Shabbat. A professor from Brown who is here for a year hosted us for dinner, which was really sweet. Joey had had his son as a student in religious school and the daughter was in Jr USY when I was the advisor last year. We walked about 30 minutes to their shul, where we experienced a really beautiful and progressive service. The prayer books had a lot of wording options and the room was actually packed with people singing along with the rabbi. I was very impressed. We then walked with our professor and his family to their apartment and ate a wonderful meal. It was very nice to be in a family setting for a change. After the meal, we walked back to the hostel and fell asleep quickly after so much walking.
The next day, Joey and I took our food and walked to a park. We spent the rest of the day alternately walking, eating, sitting in the shade, and exploring the city. It was new for me to be in Jerusalem on Shabbat, and I was actually surprised by the number of cars I saw driving in the streets. Granted, it was not a ton, but I did not expect to see almost any. Around 6pm we met up with an Israeli friend who was in Providence this past year, Noa. It was great to see her in her home setting, and we spoke in a combination of Hebrew and English, and I was proud of what I understood. Noa extended an invitation to me to come to her house on Rosh Hashannah, and any other time I am in Jerusalem. It is really nice to connect with a friend here in Israel! We finished talking around 8pm, which was perfect timing to head to the bus station and catch the first bus back to Haifa after Shabbat ended.
All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, and I was really happy to have Joey here to help me navigate the transportation and housing situations for my first trip to Jerusalem since I arrived this semester. Now I am headed off to class, but I will post again soon! (And I am figuring out how to upload my pictures from the weekend...I will update when I can).