I took a trip last weekend to Jerusalem, the City of Gold. I had been before, but this trip was different, I had more independence, more freedom to go wherever.
My friend Becca and I took the bus down from Haifa on Thursday afternoon to Jerusalem. It took us essentially two hours to traverse half of the country, that's how small Israel is. Once we got to Jerusalem, we checked into our hostels in the Old City and walked straight through the Jewish Quarter to the Kotel (The Western Wall in English). This spot in particular, the Kotel Plaza, is a microcosm of Israeli society. The Western Wall is the last remnant of the 2nd Temple when it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE and is the holiest place in Judaism. Jews from around the world come to pray here, and it is an emotional experience for a lot of people.
Jews from the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel, and the rest of the world come to pray here, and this place in particular truly shows the diversity that is Israel. First of all, it's important to note that in the especially religious communities, men and women pray separately, so there are separate sections for men and women to pray at at the wall. Once I got to the men's section, I was surrounded by religious men praying, swaying back and forth in deep concentration. They represent one section of Israeli society.
Then there are the soldiers. Israel has universal conscription for both men and women at the age of 18, so essentially right after high school men and women join the army for 2 or 3 years. There are police and soldiers guarding the Kotel for sure, but the majority of them are there with their units visiting the holiest place in Judaism. Many of them are combat soldiers, and combat soldiers carry M-16 riffles. So picture this, combat soldiers with M-16 riffles standing next to Haredi (religious) men praying at a wall.
The Kotel is also a tourist attraction. So next to the Haredi man praying next to the soldier with his M-16 riffle is somebody like me, a tourist. And in my sub-group of tourists at the Kotel, there are even more sub-groups, Jews and non-Jews. The Jewish tourists are mostly from America, but many of them are from all around the world. And especially during vacation months like December and the summer, the Kotel is full of Jewish groups on Birthright programs, a free 10 day trip to the Holy Land. And the non-Jewish tourists are from everywhere, but fit right into the craziness that is the Kotel.
I could go on and on about the diversity of the Old City, how it's split into four quarters, the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter, and how I spent Shabbat with a Jewish family from New York in Jerusalem, but I wanted to focus on the Kotel as a microcosm of the State of Israel, it's diversity, and it's holiness for so many people.