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Evaluate a significant experience….
It was the first night that I had seen the Western Wall, and all of the magic of that moment overcame me like an ocean wave, strong and powerful. As I walked towards the wall, holding hands with the other girls on my semester program, I began to cry. It was such an amazing and powerful site, and the beauty and history of the wall were spellbinding. As we worked our way to the wall and placed our hands upon it, tears began to stream down my face. I had no idea at the time why I was crying, but I knew that my journey in the next 4.5 months would hold the answer.
After that first encounter, I began a personal quest to find what I believed in. I had spent my whole life following a religion, and I wasn’t even sure what I believed in. As the days and weeks went on, the reality of Israel became our life. Daily bombings and terror attacks became a depressing but very real element of our daily existence. One evening in mid March we ventured to Jerusalem, just a few miles from our Kibbutz, to hear the Minister of Tourism speak. My class contested the evening’s events, as we had a large Jewish History test the following morning and needed to stay home and study, but our counselors insisted that we had no choice in the matter. So, note cards and study packets in hand, we went to the hotel in Jerusalem for the speech. After the Minister spoke, an Israeli dance troupe took to the stage to perform for the crowd. Halfway through the performance cell phones could be heard going off all throughout the room; something was wrong. As people began to run out of the room the situation became clear, there had been a bombing just a few short blocks away from the hotel. As I searched for a phone to call my parents, I began to feel scared for the first time since I had arrived in Israel. About 20 minutes later, we were ushered to a minibus waiting to take us back home.
Perhaps one of the most profound moments of my entire experience in Israel was that ride home. As we sped out of the city, there was a group of Orthodox Jews standing in the streets watching the scene unfold. They were standing in the same spot where, on our way to the hotel, we had passed a peace rally. That site changed something in me forever. As we passed them I became overwhelmed with distrust of God. There I was, a 16 year old who had chosen to leave my home for 5 months so that I could find out who I was. Every day I struggled with my religion and what it told me, that this was my land, my home. And that night, there I was watching these people who devoted their whole life to Judaism and God, a God who had promised us this land, and yet I was watching people die and kill all around me; dying for their county, dying just to live a normal life there.
How could I have gone so far from home just to find that I could only find more questions rather than answers in this distant land? I grieved for my loss of innocence that night. The next morning was hard, so were the rest, but that night changed me. I knew I believed, if not in God then in a people whose strength was full of power and meaning to me.
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