The Conspiracy

Reflections From My Weekend in Israel

Visiting Israel for the first time from my study abroad program in Amman, Jordan, was not how I imagined my first trip to Israel would materialize. This is partially due to the fact that I drove across the Jordanian-Israeli border to get there and that I was the only Jewish person in the group. I guess I had always thought my first trip would include flying to Tel Aviv from the States on Birth Right or something, but I’m obviously glad this opportunity presented itself earlier than expected.

My friends and I stayed at a hostel in the Old City; sleeping less than a quarter of a mile from the Wailing Wall is pretty amazing. Visiting the Wailing Wall alone was not how I had envisioned seeing the site, but it made the experience all the more personal. The first night of Hanukkah we ran into a public lighting of the Hanukkiah in the Old City. Locals proceeded to celebrate with dancing and live music, making it even more festive.

Throughout my trip, I felt a little bit of excitement every time I saw a Hanukkiah in a store window. I think this is because for the whole semester I have been suppressing my religious beliefs and haven’t been ensconced in the Jewish-populated community that I have been surrounded by my entire life.

Later in the weekend one of my friends, Christine, and I took a bus to Tel Aviv, where we stayed with my friend studying at Tel Aviv University, Emily. At this point, I was overjoyed to converse with a familiar, Jewish face! The fact that my friend, a local, gave us tours of Tel Aviv was even more exciting. Hearing about the Israeli culture from my American friend (studying abroad in Tel Aviv) was extremely intriguing. We both came from extremely similar backgrounds, both attending Hebrew school at reform temples fifteen minutes away from each other in New Jersey. However, now after this semester of our different study abroad experiences, I almost feel behind, upon recognizing how much more knowledgeable of Judaism she has become. Still, it was fun to notice the simultaneously similar and different experiences we were having in the same region of the world.

Tel Aviv, for me, shed an interesting light on how Jewish Israel really is. I think this is an unusual takeaway, considering Tel Aviv is Israel’s most cosmopolitan city, and Jerusalem is the one that has the most historical religious sites. However, I attribute to Jerusalem the stronger presence of several cultures (due to its four quarters), whereas Tel Aviv just felt ‘Israeli’ to me. I wish I could have visited other areas of Israel to compare even further, but I’ll have to save that for another trip.

The place that really showed me how Jewish Israel is was a club: After entering a club, my friends and I were offered sufganiyot. Later on, the DJ even stopped the regular music to play Hanukkah songs remixed with techno. My friends and I were really amazed at how integrated Judaism is to all aspects of life in Israel, even at the nightclubs!

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