Welcome to Israel, Stop and Smell the Arak

by Katherine Kassens January. 18, 2020 178 views
The Old City, Jerusalem

The Old City, Jerusalem

If I could recommend any country in the Middle East to visit, it would most definitely be Israel. I arrived the day after my 10+ hour flight with nearly zero expectations of what the culture would be like. This was my first time even remotely near this side of the world, so to say that I was not a little nervous would be a lie. Prior to my trip, many people were concerned for my safety. My boyfriend especially felt a little uncomfortable with me being there for about a week given the current threats Iran is making. However, this is not the first time people have told me not to go somewhere because of potential danger so like the others, I ensured and promised him that everything would be okay. When I stepped outside for the first time in this completely foreign place, I was hugged by the sunshine and a cool Mediterranean breeze. A sea of taxis surrounded me on the way to the hotel as I studied the palm trees and white buildings passing my window. The city and people gave me an enumerating amount of nostalgia from when I lived in Spain. While I was a foreigner, everyone treated me like family. This was most visible to me during my second night in Tel Aviv when I went to dinner with some people for the company I work for. Although I had only met a few of them, they proudly showed me their Israeli culture through food and drink…you guessed it—family-style! Everything I tried that night was amazing. I could not even try to tell you what everything was, since I managed to stick my fork in all the cuisine, but oh wow was my stomach ever so grateful of the fresh and un-processed food it was so accustomed to.

The Old Man and the Sea, Jaffa

The Old Man and the Sea, Jaffa

Day two in Israel found me taking an unexpected day off to go see Jerusalem. Since this trip was for business, I was unsure if I would be able to see the country apart from the inside of a cab and conference rooms, but I am so glad I was able to! For this venture, we hired a cab driver to take us wherever we wanted for a day trip to Jerusalem. Just an hour outside of Tel Aviv, we were given some history about the areas we were passing through. As barbed wire fences and Palestinian homes swiped across my eyes, I felt like a sponge—absorbing everything around me so that I may never forget these moments. When we got to Jerusalem, I was elated to be greeted by blue skies and warm sunshine with thoughts of snowy Seattle nestled far in the back of my mind. After just a few moments into the old city, we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

 Stone of Anointing, where Jesus' body was prepared for burial

Stone of Anointing, where Jesus' body was prepared for burial

Walking into the church, I felt completely ignorant of what would await me inside. In the middle of the foyer was a stone that I was surprised to see people kneeling, praying, kissing, and blessing various objects on. Little did I know that this very stone was where Jesus was laid after he died on the cross. The rest of the church featured various other treasures that I had no idea about such as Jesus’ tomb and resting place, the stone where his cross was mounted in, and the stone block where his ankles had been imprisoned while awaiting trial. To say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. I was so moved by the spirit and history of that building that I even went back to bless some rosaries to take back home. What I felt in the church, words cannot express. All I can say is that it was an incredible experience that everyone should go see regardless of belief. Following that unbelievable experience was quite a bit of meandering through the side streets of the old city to get to the Western Wall. People from all over the world were gathered around the courtyard and then split by gender to the wall. On my side, women of all ages mourned and prayed at the wall. Touching and reflecting at the wall was important to me, and I had even left a note there with my wishes and prayers. Our time in Jerusalem was not long, but very impactful and important.

Western Wall

Western Wall

This trip meant a lot to me for so many reasons. Traveling is part of who I am and honestly, who I want to be. It gives you the chance to think differently and figure out who you are or more importantly, who you want to be. I think this trip really got me back on track with my spirituality, what I want to accomplish in my life, and to appreciate the experiences I am so fortunate to live through.

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