TRAVEL & KOTEL
After the long and emotionally draining week in Poland, the time had finally come for us to depart for the holy land, Israel. The very thought that just over one mere week ago, we were all sitting comfortably in our homes in Sydney, Australia, seems quite unreal. I feel as though being in Poland truly made each and every one of us appreciate the fact that we have a Jewish homeland, and hence, this morning was filled with a feeling of excitement as a buzz that was almost tangible. We were going home!
The day began with our last Polish breakfast - to our relief - and a very short bus ride to the airport. The airport queues to check-in began and the stress of the baggage weight limit kicked in. It quickly became a frenzy of Chanichim distributing their weight amongst each other’s bags to avoid overweight luggage. It was a close call, but after the long wait, all 138 were through. We were now one step closer to Israel.
The El Al airline welcomed us onto the plane ride and we excitedly got comfortable in our seats. Since I have never been to Israel before, I allowed my mind to drift off into another world, as I began to formulate my expectations for Israel. Ever since Kindergarten, I’ve been learning about this country, which naturally holds a very special place in my heart. But now that I was just a few hours away, I began to wonder: What exactly do I expect it to be like in real life? What if it doesn’t live up to my expectations? What if it does? These thoughts dwindled in the back of my mind until the cabin crew announced landing. The closer the plane came to the ground, the louder our chanting of ‘Israel’ and ‘Homecoming’ related songs became. A thrill overcame me as the wheels touched the ground. The flight had gone past in a flash and before we knew it, we were in Israel, the Jewish State!
The excitement grew as we ran off the plane, singing and dancing to Gilad, Avichai and Omer's spontaneous jam session. The next hour consisted of collecting our suitcases, taking photos and being welcomed by our former Israeli mads. It was truly lovely to see all of our past mads, as well as family and friends who came to surprise some of us at the airport. Yet again, there was more chanting, singing, and a whole lot of excitement.
In true Israeli style, as we waited in the lines to retrieve our sim cards, our tour guides had organised boxes upon boxes of delicious, freshly baked Rugelach and other delicacies. After the ‘interesting’ Poland food, and our treacherous 4 hour flight, we were all starving, hence we proceeded to stuff our faces with what tasted like a true piece of heaven.
Once we had all eaten a sufficient amount of pastries (average of about 8 or 9 per person), and received our individual sim cards (Yay 3G!), we boarded the buses, and set out to our special destination - the Kotel. Throughout the drive, I couldn’t stop looking outside the windows, and admiring the rich history that lay before me. We finally arrived at the Old City of Jerusalem, and as we made our way through it by foot, I was completely engulfed by its beauty.
As per tradition, all those who had not yet had the privilege of seeing the Kotel were to be blindfolded. As we walked down what felt like thousands of stairs down to the Kotel, my heart was pounding, and my head was spinning. I heard the chatter of my friends, and the anticipation was palpable. We lined up in front of the Kotel - those who were blindfolded in front of their friends who were to un-blindfold them, and Rabbi Benji gave a moving Dvar Torah of the essence of Jerusalem and Am Yisrael. Then, all 138 of us united to sing ‘Tov Lehodot,’ whilst, one at a time, we were tapped on the head to signal to us to remove our blindfolds. As I opened my eyes, an overwhelming sense of awe sent shivers through my spine. I was here. I was finally here. I honestly felt like I was staring at a photo, a postcard. This was the very same place where our great ancestors stood. Where they came to give sacrifices to Hashem. Where they came to honour Him. Whilst unfortunately we can no longer honour Hashem in the same way that we used to, at that very moment, standing there in front of the Kotel made me want to honour Him in every way possible. I felt such an immense sense of pride and gratitude to be standing there, and as we shouted ‘AM YISRAEL CHAI,’ in unison, I knew that I had definitely made the right decision to come on IST.
Following this incredibly moving and powerful visit to the Kotel, we were treated to an extravagant meal overlooking the Old City. The delicious food really hit the spot. Looks like we've got an amazing 5 weeks ahead…