The Trip of a Lifetime (by Joel Evans)


I have been expecting to have some transformative experiences in Israel. Well, today, they hit in succession. We started with a tour of the old city. It was incredible to walk through an area completely dedicated to the Jewish people and so rich with history and tradition. We then we sat with yeshiva rabbis and were grouped with other tour members. This experience was enlightening, since each member of the group shared their Jewish upbringing. Our yeshiva representative was Rabbi Eitiel Goldwicht, educational director, and he guided our discussion of Judaism effortlessly. He gave us all something to think about, with a story of how three students from three different faiths all thought that the most important verse in the bible is 'love thy neighbor as thy self.' This sparked a conversation about love, and how love goes beyond just being romantic, and how it's about values, and how the Ten Commandments themselves are values. It was really enjoyable seeing where they study and interacting in a discussion around the Torah.

Next, we were led into a meeting room for a class with Charlie where we focused on a number of things that challenge us. What hit home for me first was the meeting room. All of the sudden I was facing a window that overlooked the western wall. I started to get emotional and then really tapped into my inner feelings during Charlie's presentation, which focused on what you could say to someone in 30 seconds that could change their life. Charlie mentioned that many men (and women) have trouble sharing their feelings with the ones they love. Charlie used examples from people who died on september 11th to help illustrate his points. In general the message was, don't prepare the speech, just tell someone you love them, or are proud of them. As my friend and fellow group member, Greg Pezza, said 'Charlie brings it all together. He tailors his talk to the day and inspires you and gets you to think.'  In this case, Charlie was preparing us for our trip to the western wall.

After Charlie's class, we walked out to the wall. I was expecting to have some feelings but what took me off guard was how emotional I felt when approaching the wall. When I finally rested my body against the wall and placed my note in, emotions of all types flowed. No longer caring how I would be perceived, my head filled with thoughts of my family, loved ones that have passed, and more, and I found myself talking to God in a way I had not in years. I then noticed that others around me were also breaking down and speaking to God in between tears. My words can't express how overcome with emotion I felt. Like the mikvah experience, I believe I experienced true spiritual cleansing and an immediate reprioritizing on what's important in my life.

We wrapped our day with more walking around the old city, and then Jerusalem, and even had a chance to meet with and talk to the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat.

Our day ended with activities set up for just our group by our group leader, Raphie Shochet. These included a presentation by Yossi Fraenkel from Zaka Search and Rescue. Yossi took us through what his amazing organization does as first responders, and how they're dedicated volunteers providing search, rescue and recovery services to anyone in need. We then wrapped up with a family friend of Raphie's, who converted to Judaism and became a Rabbi after having already been a priest. Again, another incredible, thought-provoking lecture.

Tomorrow is Masada and the Dead Sea. It's truly incredible how this trip is changing me. It's definitely the trip of a lifetime.


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