Day 41 - Closing program, the Shuk and Ben Yehuda (Lehava)
In this world, in life, not much is ever perfect. Not every day will inspire you, or change your point of view, or take your breath away. When you experience moments that do these things, it’s important to acknowledge them for what they are and never let them go. IST is full of these moments.
The shrill call of ‘Ramat Rachel’s classic telephone wake-up pierced through the silence of the bedroom. Flashing red letters on the alarm clock read 8:15. Slivers of sun peered through the curtains, shedding small patches of light on the carpet and four completely packed suitcases. Reality struck- today, we were going home.
It seemed surreal.
It seemed as if I could still be back at day one, could still close my eyes and still see my father hugging me at the airport, my mother mentally checking off my packing list, ensuring I did not leave a single item behind (we forgot a hat), as I was about to go on a journey of a lifetime.
Today that journey would draw to a final close.
Still half asleep after an incredible final night and New Year’s Eve, I found myself subconsciously going through the motions, as if this was routine. After six weeks of living out of a suitcase and early morning wake-ups, it was.
We then had our final tefillah session. Over the course of IST, morning tefillah was not only an opportunity to pray, but for us girls, it was a time of self-reflection and learning - about ourselves and the girls around us. I learned many lessons from the female madrichot during these sessions and I will strive to put the ideas of kindness, chesed, only speaking good, and appreciation for women and our bond, into an action in my day-to-day life.
The rest of the morning consisted of final sessions with our family groups. This, for me at least, was very hard. At the beginning of the program, every family group, including my own, started off a little shakily; madrichim we hadn’t met, peers we never spoke to, two different schools that hadn’t collaborated up until our shabbaton, all-in-all, it was kind of awkward.
But as we sat together for the final time, I felt an appreciation for every person sitting in that circle, because a major part of IST, is understanding that your journey would not be the same without every single person surrounding you. And in every sense of the word, as I sat with them all for the final time, I felt as if that group was a family to me, and I am very grateful to have had them on the journey.
After these sessions, we left Ramat Rachel a little sad but soon spirits were soaring as we made our way to the highly anticipated Machane Yehuda visit.
The shuk was the perfect place to visit before finishing IST because it is a microcosm of Israeli society. Bustling streets with vibrant colours, the sound of bargaining Israelis and car horns blaring, the smell of freshly baked rugelach and Chanukah donuts. Jews of all religiosity, running through the stalls, jay-walking across the road and filling the streets with life. The shuk carried everything from lollies, to handmade kippot, to Bob Marley pants to ‘sterling silver’ jewellery. Every alleyway and corner has a story and it is an inherently Israeli one that fills you with a sense of belonging.
Before we knew it, we were back on the bus, heading towards the Kotel for the final time.
The bus drive there was entertaining at its best (go bus 4) yet I felt this odd feeling, one of bittersweet nostalgia. As I looked out the bus window I saw a country that I had learned to love, learned to appreciate and respect, and now all to soon, I was being made to leave. We were sent on this incredible program, where you learn so much not only about Israel, but about yourself as well. But as I looked out that window, I asked myself if I had utilised every opportunity that came our way.
We traced a route that was no longer foreign to us, through the Jewish Quarter and down towards the Kotel, chatting and laughing the whole way.
Eventually we were all quiet, all 163 of us standing in a ‘chet’ shape, surrounding an Israeli flag. Rabbi Benji gave his final speech, and we sang Hatikvah.
In the first blog that I wrote, I spoke about our visit to the Children’s forest, and how for the first time on our trip, our voices echoed Benji’s as we shouted out, Am Yisrael Chai, and as we stood at the Kotel for the final time, we call out once more, and it really hit home just how much the nation of Israel really does live.
We had time to write ourselves letters and daven if we wanted before meeting back as a group and leaving for the airport, and everyone utilised this time in their own way.
I myself, left my friends, to go be at the Wall for the final time. As I’m sure the other girls can attest, getting to the actual wall itself was a nightmare. The Kotel was packed, and it took a solid 5 minutes of polite pushing to get to touch the wall.
And as I rested my forehead against what is essentially an old wall and closed my eyes, I felt everything rush to me.
I saw myself standing in Tykocin and in Lublin.
I saw myself crying in a gas chamber in Majdanek and I saw my best friends crying in the Children’s forest.
I felt the freezing cold on the day we were at Auschwitz and I felt the frostiness of the Polish snow on my clothes.
I heard the plane’s wheels making contact with the ground for the first time, and I heard the sighs of relief and whoops and cheers at arriving to Israel.
I saw the pouring rain in Tzfat and I saw the warm and always golden streets of Jerusalem.
I saw the Kinneret, I saw donkeys and I saw Gabi and Eitan Cher in Ethiopian dresses.
I saw the Northern Borders and I saw the threats so close to Israeli soil.
I felt the blanketed darkness of the City of David tunnels and I felt the sting of getting shot in paintball in Gush Etzion.
I heard the laughter of my friends playing wheelchair basketball and I heard the quiet of our free weekends.
I saw the memories I made on Gadna and I saw the old and new culture of Tel Aviv.
I heard the melodies voices of Yo Nina and I heard those of the children of our hospitality stays.
I saw myself (attempting to) run during the Amazing Race and I saw myself partaking in fun activities on Y2i day.
I saw myself doing water-sports and snorkelling in Eilat and I saw myself hiking to watch the sunrise.
I heard nothing in the Deaf Museum and I heard a minute’s silence at Mount Herzl.
I saw everything.
And through blurred tears I saw I was floating.
I was floating in a sea of Jewish women, of smiling yet foreign eyes and a language I still didn’t fully understand. I saw a wall. Old and slightly weather beaten but our Wall.
And within the tumult around me I smiled to myself, because IST was over, but I was not returning home as I had originally thought.
In that moment, I knew, that in my heart, I was already home.
By Tali Horwitz