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New Perspectives On An Old City

  |   Fellowship

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By: Talia Laifer, TAMID Summer Fellow, Washington University in St. Louis

 

Three weeks ago the Fellowship traveled to Jerusalem for a two day tour. We began with an Old City tour, followed by a trip to the City of David to see the water tunnels and ancient ruins.

 

The contrast between our Old City tour, led by a secular Israeli; and our City of David tour given by a religious Jew with a beard and kippa, was strong. One spoke with a lot of air quotes, a lot of “this is what we are told to believe” statements, and a lack of validity. The other spoke so surely of the history behind the ancient city of David and the Jewish history in Israel. it was very interesting to see both sides portrayed.  Afterward, our group was given time to pray on our own at the Western Wall, before gathering together to celebrate. A member of the trip had been Bar Mitzvah’d at the wall on his own, without telling anyone, and so once we found out we began singing and dancing outside of the prayer area of the wall.

 

We then headed back to our hostel to get ready for a big night out in Jerusalem. We headed to JVP (Jerusalem Venture Partners) for a night of networking, amazing food, and of course, unlimited wine. The JVP office is located on a campus filled with greenery, right next to Jerusalem’s recently renovated Old Train Station. The night was not only fun and enjoyable, but really interesting as well. We heard from various local entrepreneurs as well as the presidents of the TAMID chapter at Hebrew University, the only non-U.S. member of the TAMID Group. It was so cool to hear how differently the program operates in a country like Israel, simply because of cultural and educational differences between the two countries, such as the abundance of startups in Israel, and the late age of Israeli college students because of the mandatory national army service. After mingling and meeting different inspiring entrepreneurs, we headed to Ben Yehuda street to go out on the town, quite literally. It was a great and late night in Jerusalem.

 

The next morning, we split up into cohorts (the fellowship is split into three groups of 40 students each, in order to provide optimal and personal experiences for all of the fellows), to head to Har Herzl. Herzl Mountain is the National and Military Cemetary in Jerusalem. Not only is it home to the graves of many of the great founders and leaders of the State of Israel, but it also is host to the graves of those who gave their lives fighting for the State. I’ve toured the site numerous times, but this tour was special. Not only were we touring with many fellows who were either not Jewish or had never been to Israel, but we were touring with many who had personal connections to those who lost their lives for our country. My Madricha (counselor) took a small group of us to the grave of one her husband’s friends from the army. The pain in her face as we even approached the grave was enough to convey the deep meaning this place holds in the hearts of so many Israelis. My madricha explained how awful it is to look at the empty plots of land and know that soon enough, even more soldiers will be buried there, simply giving their lives to defend our home. After we toured, we sat in our cohort group to discuss our feelings after visiting these graves. Two fellows spoke about how this visit strengthened their previously minimal relationship to the Land of Israel. One fellow said that after choosing to convert to Judaism, he is now considering enlisting for Israeli army service and moving to Israel. It was oddly powerful to hear such strengthening words at a time of such sadness.

 

It feels necessary to note what was going on in Jerusalem during this trip.On Thursday morning, June 30th, while we were sitting and debating whether or not to sit out of the tour of the City of David, news broke about the murder of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, a thirteen year old girl who was stabbed to death by a terrorist in her own home while she was peacefully asleep. Her death, and terror attacks that followed in nearby Hebron, caused a universal mourning, but also political debates having to do with settlements and whether or not these attacks are warranted if they occur over the green line. Needless to say, this event was not only horrifying and deeply upsetting, but it was frightening. I started to notice more and more sirens going off in Jerusalem (that may have just been my ears being a bit more aware), and I felt constantly on alert in fear. I didn’t want to walk around alone, let alone in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is divided into four separate quarters to represent four different religions (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Armenian). Israel was in trouble, the hearts of the people were broken and scared, and yet, I had never felt safer or more at home.

 

While the majority of the program participated in an amazing student-led Shabbat in the Old City, complete with prayers overlooking the Western Wall at sundown, Shabbat dinner together, and conversations and activities, I spent the weekend with my parents who were visiting Jerusalem.  As my mother and I were walking the streets outside of the Old City at night, we realized how at peace we felt. It was an odd feeling- as the rest of the world looked on at the news (or lack there of, in some cases) and feared the terror in Israel, we never felt safer- whether that be safe with our sense of self, our awareness, or genuinely safe in the land of Israel; it didn’t really matter. The point being, that spending the weekend in Jerusalem during such a sad, yet tumultuous time only strengthened my relationship to this land, solidifying the reason I so badly wanted to return here for the summer, and the reason I am so passionate about being a part of TAMID. TAMID is its own (apolitical and areligious) Israel advocate. As a national organization, we aren’t expected to take sides, to take a divisive stance; instead we join together to simply support the amazing work and growth this country has to offer. Working here, I feel like I am contributing- I am helping to grow the land, to watch this country flourish with its technological knowhow, skills, and insight. And for that which TAMID has provided me with, I’m eternally grateful.