Jun 20, 2023 By Roni Wolk Category: Travel,
MY FIRST VISIT TO ISRAEL
We entered Tel Aviv air space, and I felt a rush of emotions: gratitude that my Jewish journey had led me to this moment, tremendous excitement, a sense of anticipation, and even a bit of fear. Would this trip be all that I had hoped for? Tears came to my eyes. I felt a lump in my throat, and I actually couldn’t speak. Grabbing my husband’s hand, together we watched our descent into Israel, completely in awe of the experience. We’d made it to Israel! Was this really happening?
Who could have predicted 20, 30 or even 40 years ago that I would be visiting Israel? Not me. I didn’t come from a very religious or Zionist family. And what had I learned in religious school? That was just words on a page. It didn’t reach my heart. But since becoming involved with Jewish National Fund-USA, my world has grown. Israel and its people now have a permanent place in my heart.
The Kotel in Jerusalem
Everyone had told me that I must spend Shabbat in Jerusalem, that I must visit the wall on Friday night. We did and it truly was one of the highlights of our trip. It was a joyous, where-do-you-look-first experience. Hundreds of men and women (separately), young and old, ultra-Orthodox and otherwise, were jubilant, singing, dancing, and joining together to welcome in Shabbat. We just stood there, taking it all in and feeling part of an ancient and current-day tradition.
Then I got closer to the wall. It was much bigger and more commanding than I had imagined. And yet, with its worn and softened stone edges, it was much more intimate and welcoming than I could have envisioned. I could touch it. I did touch it. There I was with hundreds of people who were complete strangers, but in a greater sense, also part of my family. We were all part of the Jewish story. Again, I was overcome with emotions. I was following a holy tradition, just like Jews from all over the world had done for generations, since biblical times.
We visited many places in Israel. We walked the broken and crumbling pathways through the markets in Jerusalem. We explored the mystical town of Tsfat high up in the Galilee. We drove through the stark, yet beautiful desert and my eyes took in the sights of old and new mingling together. We schlepped up and down the massive stone steps and through the winding alleyways of Old Jaffa greeting the shop owners and admiring the view from this vantage point. And we stood atop the bold and majestic Masada, thinking about the brave Jews from ancient times who had lived and died there.
So, this was what Bruce Feiler meant when he wrote the book, “Walking the Bible.” I WAS WALKING THE BIBLE! I WAS WALKING THE BIBLE! It completed a narrative in my mind, one that had begun so many years ago with Sunday school and Hebrew school, but until now had remained unfinished and more like someone else’s story. Now, it was personal. Now it was my story too. Upon our return, I created a very detailed photo book to commemorate our trip. But it was not necessary. The memories and the impact of our first trip to Israel will stay with me forever.
Roni Wolk is JNF-USA’s National Chair, LOTEM; and Chair, Women for Israel Newsletter
Related Links: jnf.org/travel