Twelve Tribes, One People.

The first time I stood in front of the Kotel (Western Wall) I didn’t know what to think. On the one hand, I was praying at one of the holiest sites for the Jewish people. It was incredible to know that this is where the Beit Hamikdash (Temple) once stood. This is where my ancestors would travel to on the high holy days and where the center of Judaism once was and still is, thousands of years later!

I thought I felt connected to Jerusalem before but after spending even a little bit of time here, I truly feel like its home. I feel comfortable walking around the winding streets of the Old City discovering new nooks and crannies, meeting people and tasting all the delightful food that there are here. It never gets old, there is always something new to see or experience.

On our most recent Mayanot tour of the area, with all 30 women in the Summer Mayanot Women’s Learning Program, I learnt more then I could have imagined about the historical and spiritual significance of this amazing place. So much of the history of our people is tied to this land and these cobblestone streets. I feel that the more I learn and educate myself, the closer I feel connected to my ancestry and what has happened to our people, as a nation!

Walking through the Old City, I can now tell who is a tourist, who lives in the area and who is just a temporary inhabitant, like myself. You see the more religious, and the less religious all mingling together and working their way in and out of the shops that line the streets, or asking G-d for what they need at the Kotel. Everyone wandering around these areas our ancestors once wandered around. 

It really is illustrative of why Israel is the Jewish homeland. Regardless, of where Jews are coming from or what they believe, it is easy to feel a sense of belonging within the walls of the Old City and within Jerusalem, in general. How connected we are to this place, how could it be any other way!

I think my favorite experience coming to the kotel is Friday night, during Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday evening prayers). It is an amazing scene and one I have been lucky enough to see on an almost regular basis. Everyone is gathered in their best Shabbat clothing from more religious men and women, to Taglit Birthright Israel groups singing “Am Yisroel Chai” as loudly as possible, the diversity is astounding and so beautiful. It is one of the most amazing sights to witness, as everyone scurries to find their friends and family, so they can head to their Shabbat meals, you are struck with the realization that you are a part of something so much bigger then yourself, something that feels so important with such historical and spiritual significance.

The main point of Torah, as I understand it, is to love your fellow Jew as you love yourself, and walking around the Old City you realize how diverse the Jewish people are and how much variety we have between us. At the same time we are all connected, everyone is working towards the same goals and praying to the same G-d.

It is easy to forget that this unity exists in the hustle and bustle of daily life in Jerusalem. But, the Old City is almost like a secret oasis frozen in time. It is part of the city and modern life but also not at all. That’s what makes it so incredible. Walking through the Old City connects you to another time; it’s a tangible part of the greater Jewish timeline. Next time you are walking in the Old City, stop and look around, take in the sounds and the sights and realize that you are a part of something much bigger than yourself.

Written by: Jennie Maibor, Current Student of the Mayanot Women's Learning Program in Jerusalem

(Photos courtesy of Liz Cornell and Arielle Flax)