Israel Free Spirit
Bus 541

Shabbat Shalom: Culture in Tel Aviv to Feeling it all at The Western Wall, Day 4

Another Kibbutz down, none to go. We departed for Tel Aviv at around 7:00am, only after a “hearty” pancake breakfast, of course. Let us not forget how stingy Ari is with our time at this point. We can’t blame him though; he’s basically herding a group of camels with attention deficit around Israel for a week.

Friday’s first stop is Tel Aviv’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center where we learned that Tel Aviv is a global hub of innovation. We had the opportunity to review key technologies first hand including Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and popular mobile applications used worldwide like Waze. I never knew that Israelis have been navigating me around America.

From the Entrepreneurship center we headed over to Independence Hall for a dive into something much more historical. Independence Hall is the location at which the first plots in Tel Aviv were assigned/divided as well as where Israel declared its independence from Palestine. 541 was hitting its traditional midday rut, sleepy eyes all around, but our presenter was bubbly and charismatic and kept most of us engaged with rich facts and humorous asides.

We wrapped up our day in Tel Aviv with some time at the grocery and artisan market. It was interesting to hear the different stories of where each group ended up across Tel Aviv over the course of that hour and a half. Some remained in the immediate area while others went off the beaten path to find a small local deli or even get lost in the surrounding streets.

After Tel Aviv, the trip took a turn to luxury. We checked into Ramet Rachel, where we would stay for the final three nights. The hotel was much more comfortable than the Kibbutz hostels; air conditioning, spacious rooms, a large cafeteria, a pool and most importantly, a bar. By 6:00pm, the crew was dressed to impress for Shabbat. For some of us, this would be the first Shabbat we’ve experienced.

We boarded 541 with some good energy and made our way over to the old city where we would learn a bit about the history of the Temple Mount and Shabbat. The old city is beautiful with narrow streets and everything constructed of Jerusalem stone. There were frequent passersby carrying big trays of Shabbat dinner prepared earlier that day.  

From what I gathered, the Western Wall was a unique, insightful experience for everyone. I was with a few of the guys and really had no plans to approach the wall. From the top of the hill, before reaching security, I could see the sea of Hasidic and Orthodox Jews praying, heads bobbing, it looked like the first ten rows of your favorite band’s concert where I’m usually content hanging in the back. It was intimidating.

Barak grabbed a few of us and basically said “No, you guys are definitely getting in there.” He brought us through the crowd and set us free. A few of us approached the wall and we didn’t really know what to do. I just followed along with what I saw around me. No, I didn’t start frantically bobbing my head, but I approached the wall and pressed my hand and forehead to it. I felt an instant rush of emotion generated from this deep and direct connection to history and the people around me that I was feeling. It came through my eyes and tears trickled down my face. I heard an orthodox man next to me crying, praying to his family who had likely passed away.

I gathered myself, and made sure to say a prayer for my mother, my grandfather and grandmother who would have given anything to be where I was, at the Western Wall. I pulled away from the wall and turned around to see Maor. I think that was a moment of realization for him and some of the other Israeli’s that this meant so much to us, to become reconnected with our heritage and homeland, to become reconnected with one another. He gave me a big hug and we exited the crowd.  

Those feelings turned immediately to joy as we gathered as a group, sang, danced and made our way up to what was a filling Shabbat dinner. It would have been nice to have been given a menu or something. We all thought that the first and second dishes were all that we would get, so we filled up on those before receiving two or three additional rounds of hearty food that we couldn’t eat!

We began our 2.9-mile trek back to the hotel. After all that had happened in the old city and at the wall, we were excited to get back to the bar and let loose. There were a number of calls made to Wafa, the bartender (great dude), to keep the place open for us, so he did. We ordered our first drinks at Ramet Rachel around 11:45pm and celebrated our great day. It was Yakir’s birthday at midnight! He tossed back a number of tequila shots before being risen up on his chair.

Day four was a whirlwind.   

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 – JS