We ended the trip with a couple of days in Jerusalem. Saturday night after Havdalah (the end of Shabbat), we celebrated the beginning of a good week (“shavua tov”) with a surprisingly fun night out at the Mahane Yehuda Market. For food, I would recommend both Jachnun Bar and Basta Pasta in the market if you ever find yourself in the holy city. The party requires no recommendation as it was primarily in the streets of the market. You just have to walk towards the music.

In the morning we visited the Western Wall. This was one of my favorite stops of the trip. As is tradition, I wrote a prayer on a piece of paper, folded it up small, and shoved it into a crevice between the large rectangular rocks of the ancient wall. Jews have prayed at the wall for hundreds of years, not because it is the holiest place but because it is the holiest place they are allowed. The Temple Mount enclosed within the wall is the most sacred place to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, but an Israeli told me that if a Jew tries to pray under the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount he or she should expect to be tackled immediately.

Later in the day we had a guided tour through Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem. It reminded me of my visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum a little over a month ago and was as sad and impactful as one would expect. Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery, brought all of that closer to home the following day as we tried to sympathize with Israelis in our group who cried in their continued mourning of friends who tragically lost their lives in the military and through despicable acts of terror. It is so impossibly difficult to process the the fact that more than 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. It was hard enough hearing just one story about the death of a friend of one of our Israeli friends at the hands of terrorists. The only parts I could read on the Hebrew tombstones were the numbers representing the ages at death of the deceased. The average age was younger than I am now. I guess it should not have been a surprise given the years of required service as a young adult, but I did not expect to see row after row of tombstones with ages 19, 23, 21, 17, 20, 22, etc.. You never want to see that.

I finally arrived home this morning after a 12 hour flight from Tel Aviv. I was fortunate to sleep for the majority of the flight despite sitting next to a family with two babies and two other young kids. It was the best test yet for the noise-cancelling capabilities of my AirPod Pros and they passed with flying colors.

Despite my general preferences against rules and strict, not self-imposed schedules, I found the birthright trip to be a valuable and certainly worthwhile experience. I really felt I got to know Israel and thoroughly enjoyed many aspects of the country and its unique culture. I was even considering staying in Tel Aviv for a couple of extra nights on the back end of the trip but decided not to, partly because of what is going on with Iran. Iran’s act of retaliation in Iraq this evening added conviction to my sense that I was making the right decision coming home. I am pretty confident I will make it back to Tel Aviv for some more time another time anyway.