By Chris Alvarez
Honestly, I didn’t have very high expectations for my trip to Israel. I thought that it would just be a lot of tourist sites and cheesy Jewish sing-alongs. I was expecting to be bombarded with propaganda on why I should move there and make little Israeli babies. But I wasn’t. I found it to be enlightening and spiritually fulfilling. There were two days in particular that awakened a sense of spirituality and history in me that I had never felt before.
It was day two and we spent the morning hiking the Oasis of Ein Gedi. We trekked through streams to reach a waterfall. In the middle of the desert. Here we were, in the desert, swimming beneath a waterfall! I couldn’t believe it—I felt like I was living in a dream. After that surreal hike we got onto our tour bus and headed to the Dead Sea. I had always wanted to swim in it, and I finally had my chance. As I walked into the water it was a lot hotter than I thought it would be and there wasn’t sand at the bottom. The bottom was coarse salt rock that would have cut my feet if I hadn’t been wearing shoes. The water felt a bit like chicken soup. After floating out of the Dead Sea, our group made its way to Masada. We took a cable car up to the top of the Mountain and toured the ruins of the fortress. Learning about what happened there was emotional. Most people think a mass suicide took place right before the Romans conquered it but that’s not entirely true. There was only one suicide. The rest of the death—the men, the woman and the children—were murders. After hearing about this tragedy and seeing the history and beauty of the area, I knew this trip to Israel would change my life. The next day we made our way to Jerusalem where my connection with Israel was solidified.
It was Friday right before sundown and I was standing in front of the Western Wall. Our Birthright group was there for Shabbat services and I made it a priority to have a private moment at the holiest site in all of Judaism. I was not religious growing up but standing there I couldn’t help but feel like the most religious person in the world. As I stood at the wall a wave of emotion came over me. The moment I touched the wall I began to cry. Millions of people have fought and died for the chance to do what I was doing. I wrote down my hopes, dreams and prayers for the world and put them on a small piece of paper. With all my might I shoved the note, folded to the size of a postage stamp, into the wall, jam packed with millions of others. At that moment I had a spiritual experience. For just a moment, all the pains, heartaches and sadness in my life was lifted. Since that moment at The Wall I have felt like a completely different person. I became a part of something bigger than myself; I became a part of Jewish history.